Archive for the ‘Camera Trapping’ Category
One of the most beautiful of all the Asian wild cats
Once upon a time, the clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) was found all over Thailand when some 75 percent of the country was covered in forest. At the end of WWII, the human population really began to explode and these magnificent biospheres were cut down for agriculture and settlement taking all the natural resources in its wake. Modern transportation, weapons and logging on a grand scale began to quickly shrink this once remarkable heritage.
Barely 20 percent forest cover is now surviving in an ever-shrinking wilderness. The clouded leopard has been exterminated primarily for its pelt and now survives in all but a few protected areas throughout the Kingdom. It is one of the most beautiful marked creatures in the world. The marbled cat (Pardofelis marmorata), another wild feline is similar in coat pattern but smaller in size. Both of these cats have become extremely rare throughout their range.
In July of this year, I decided to make a trip down to Khlong Saeng Wildlife Sanctuary in southern Thailand in conjunction with Greg McCann and Habitat I.D. (NGO to monitor wildlife in Southeast Asia) to set some camera traps in the moist evergreen forest to see what was still thriving here. Three years ago, I did a camera trap and photographic survey of this protected area and got a marbled cat up on a ridgeline in the interior, plus a clouded leopard in a cave entrance at another location. I knew there was still good possibilities that I would get these cats again.
I decided to set my Nikon D90 DSLR trail cam along with a couple Bushnell Trophy Cams at this same location. Unfortunately, the hard-wired slave flashes were not working due to wiring problems and so left the cam with its single hot-shoe mounted Nikon SB-400 flash. I knew then if the cam caught any creature, I would get images with ‘eye-shine’ but decided to leave it anyway.
I have just returned from Khlong Saeng to collect the data from these cams. Imagine my surprise to see a clouded leopard on the D90’s card. It was an absolute joy to see this cat had passed the cam and even though the ‘eye-shine’ was there, the markings and beauty of this carnivore is truly remarkable. I have pulled the D90 and put a Canon 400D with three Nikon SB-28 slaves which was working very well when I left it. The Bushnell cams also recorded many other species and I will be doing a video post soon. Enjoy…!
A video and still photos of an Indochinese tiger in the Western Forest Complex of Thailand. This male cat was camera trapped in the afternoon and then in mid-morning…a beautiful carnivore.
The message is the same: these magnificent cats need 100% increase in protection and enforcement as they have become extremely rare in the wild. Unfortunately, some bad people chase after them for bones to be sold on the black market…! The main worry is that help will come too little and too late to really save the tiger and other creatures of the Thai forest…! Enjoy the beauty of raw nature but never forget this message: We need to work hard to change things so these magnificent cats will continue to roam the forest…!
A lucky catch in late afternoon…!
I was finally able to set my Canon 600D with two Nikon SB-28 flashes on a trail where I previously set my BFOutdoors P41 and captured tiger, yellow and black phase leopards plus many other creatures found in this forest. It has been a great location and the set has been very productive.
However, the sensor was not working properly (old #5 with refresh) and run the batteries down. I recently got the #5 program without refresh (many thanks to Johnnydeerhunter on Camtrapper.com) and installed the new chip. It worked like a charm and the Canon will fire off 6 shots a second and wake-up the flashes. The cam and flashes were working great when I left it. I also set up a DXG 567 ‘blackflash’ homebrew video cam close to the Canon to record any animals that passed by (I’ll be posting a video of this cat passing the cam twice).
It has been extremely wet and for some odd reason, the flashes stopped working but the camera continued to crank along. I was pleasantly surprised when I visited the location a couple days ago. On the card was a male tiger that walked past the cam at 4:40PM on October 4th but the flashes did not trigger which created some undesirable noise in this image. This shot is the best of the lot with some highlights on his family jewels and legs, plus a superb back-lit forest. Needless to say, I was still happy with the results and will put this Canon back ASAP…the location certainly has potential and my hope for that black leopard continues…one of these days….Enjoy…!
A male Indochinese tiger in the Western Forest Complex of Thailand..!
What are the odds that my DSLRs would capture two different tigers sporting radio collars within one week of each other..? These are real fluke camera trap shots taken some twenty kilometers away from my Nikon D700 that caught a female also with a collar at the ‘tiger log’. I just posted this on this website a couple of days ago. http://brucekekule.com/camera_trapping/nikon-d700-catches-an-indochinese-female-tiger-sporting-a-radio-collar/
The Sony A500 was triggered by a male tiger on Sept. 17, 2014 at 10:26 PM while the D700 got a female on Sept. 24 at 5:45 AM. I only captured two tigers this trip and it seems weird that they both have collars. Maybe the ‘spirits of the forest’ wanted me to really show and tell the world what is actually going on in this forest concerning tigers. Who knows..?
Needless to say, I’ve already vented my feelings about tigers and radio collars in my recent D700 post so there’s no sense in going there again. However, the A500 got a nice string of shots of this male with a huge collar. I think the battery is on the bottom and transmitter on top. This monstrosity surely looks heavy..!
Unfortunately, only one flash on the right triggered which was a bit of a let-down. The other flash was up high on the tree pointing down at the tiger and would have cancelled that shadow. It was one of those things and there’s always next time. The A500 fired four quick shots and as the big cat jumped forward, triggered another five as he leaped to the right. All in all, I was still pleased with the results and look forward to a ‘black cat’ that I once videoed in broad daylight at this very location.
Noise is also a problem with these images, as I had to do some heavy tweaking in Camera Raw and Photoshop to get them to acceptable levels. If I had been shooting in JPG. format, there would be no chance to bring these back. RAW capture is the only way to revive images when things get dark with not enough light.
I’m not sure if this is inherent to Sony but I think most makes and brands with low light means serious noise although the newer pro-cameras handle noise quite well. The settings are: ƒ8 – 1/80th – 400 ISO…flash set to ¼ power, and lens was a Minolta 28mm (old lens I have had for years). It’s a wonder I got these shots at all..!
Oh well, back to the drawing board on flash standby power. I’m putting together a couple Nikon SB-28 and SB-600 flashes that will work with hard-wire or radio triggers with four Eneloop AAs in the flash and four rechargeable ‘Ultracell ‘D’ cells with 11,000 mAh capacity as externals to add more power for longer soaks. This will all fit in a lockable ‘Tupperware’ type box as shown.
I will try these on the A500 first to see if there is a difference with staying power. I also believe that three or more flashes are the ticket for well-lit shots…I know Steve Winter with N.G. sometimes uses from 4-5 flashes depending on terrain.
It’s a never-ending battle with the DSLRs but I guess that’s what I like about using them: the challenge to get tigers and leopards on digital camera plus all the other cryptic animals in Thailand’s forests…it all becomes worthwhile when I do get a shot or shots…! Enjoy.
Tiger research in the Western Forest Complex (WFC) of Thailand
Indochinese tiger female sporting a ‘radio collar’ at the tiger log…!
First off, I want everyone to know that I’m not against research that is extremely important for knowledge of the natural world. The practice of studying animals and behavior is needed to understand how Mother Nature’s beings and biospheres live in a complex world. Some people might take offence to the relevant facts stated below but things need to change quickly in order to really save the tiger, and other creatures and ecosystems of Thailand’s natural heritage.
Close-up: A serial numbered tiger and the number can be seen written on the collar.
Frankly, there are some projects that are on-going and not up to standard that have caused many tiger deaths, directly and indirectly. Such is the ‘tiger research’ carried out that is mediocre to very poor to say the least. The researchers working on tigers here have a track record that simply is not acceptable…!
Many problems have come to the forefront about the system of capturing the big cats with snares and then shooting them with darts to sedate them. Some tigers have escaped the snare and ended up with a limp because of pulled joints, tendons and ligaments. This is a serious problem as the cat now cannot chase down its normal prey like deer and pigs, and quickly dies of malnutrition. Botched tiger captures using wrongly administered drugs to sedate tigers has also been noted. The tigers could not be revived and the animals were simply buried and the news suppressed.
Serial numbered tiger – #164 900 – 2014
Another problem of making broad statements about the amount of tigers in certain areas and broadcasting this plus other pertinent ‘radio collaring’ information on national TV channel is like sounding the death knoll to come and get these magnificent creatures. There are still many bad elements in our society and these cold-blooded killers think nothing about dispatching a tiger for its bones used in the making of Chinese medicine and wine. It’s all about money and human greed…!
This has also happened in India where researchers published their work in the local newspapers, and on the radio and TV how many tigers were in Panna Tiger Reserve and within one year, the cats completely disappeared as poachers moved in and systematically killed them all in one quick swoop. Tigers like all big cats, come to carrion and if a carcass is tainted with poison, it’s just a matter of time before the whole local wild feline population is wiped out. They disappeared under the forestry staff and researcher’s noses. Because it is in open forest, other animals like bears, civets, all the cats, wild pigs. vultures also perish. How could this happen..?
Other stories on the Internet can be found about tigers with collars not breeding very well was also documented in India. Finally, researcher’s laptops have been hacked into and important GPS data on tiger whereabouts was stolen. These high tech poachers can kill a population in a jiffy.
Putting collars on young tigers is a serious no-no but this has been done here in the name of research with the researchers finding the collar had stopped moving and the cub found dead having quickly out-grown the leather strap suffocating it. Another serious occurrence of taking tiger cubs out of their den for research data gathering purposes, and then coming back a second time to photograph the researchers holding the cubs. The mother tiger abandon the den and the cubs ended up dead. This is a serious breach of protocol and the National Parks law…!
Needless to say, these people continue to carry on like nothing has happened but these are facts backed-up by reliable sources and boots on the ground. And what is really worrisome is the fact that several international NGOs and a U.S. university are backing this program.
Other tribulations like bringing domestic cattle to act as ‘tiger bait’ was ongoing until recently, and who knows if any disease like ‘foot and mouth’ or ‘anthrax’ was introduced into the sanctuary during this time. The cattle were purchased locally (sometimes, diseased cows are illegally imported from nearby Burma). This baiting technique was used for several years and the researchers brought these domesticated cattle in by the truckload. A cow was then tied to a stake and a bamboo enclosure built around it with only one opening and they built scores of them in the forest. Of course hay and water were provided to the cow. A tiger would step in and maybe get snared. This practice fortunately has been suspended. This is just another breach of the law where domesticated animals are not allowed in wildlife sanctuaries that have been set aside for biodiversity and research.
The researchers already have loads of data including identifying individuals and home-range information through camera trapping, plus the data from the 8-10 collared tigers. My feeling is that the collaring process should cease as there are far to few tigers left in the wild. No amount of research can justify even one tiger getting killed in the name of science. There are only about 3,200 left in the world, and maybe less than 250 in Thailand. It is time to seriously concentrate on protection and enforcement only and less emphasis put on research. We already know there are tigers in WFC, one of the greatest tiger reserves in the world.
Most unfortunate are the old laws that apply to wildlife and protected areas that seem to perpetuate lawless people from being put away in jail. Most poachers and forest product gatherers get light fines and a slap on the wrist when apprehended in national park land, even with solid evidence. The park officials must bring all poachers to the local police station, which then starts another wheel of corruption at a higher level. If the case gets into the courts, pay-offs are used to get light sentences and sometime off ‘Scott-free’. There are very few convictions and long-term jail sentences although once in awhile, some do end-up in jail as a consequence but the ratio of convicted poachers to released offenders is small.
The biggest problem is simply there are not enough ranger personnel to look after these remaining tiger reserves and, budgets are slim and sometime non-existent. My biggest concern is that everything will come too late to save the tiger from extinction. Lawmakers and budget people need to get their head out of the sand but that will take an act of god (AOG) to get going in a culture that thrives on corruption.
One of the most important things to get established in Thailand is a dedicated ‘ranger school’ so that the ranks can be filled with well trained and equipped personnel. The present ranger numbers need to be increased by over 100%. Several revolving 5-man teams need to patrol with men always in the forest from their respective ranger stations. This is the only way to keep the poachers at bay. Again, this will basically need an AOG to get done.
Once again, I’m not against research, but a line must be drawn in the sand. Too much money and effort goes towards this activity and very little into protecting the wildlife and biospheres here that the researchers are researching. This is just not right and I for one, want to try and change things here so that wildlife at least gets a fair shake.
At the end of the day, the only thing that will help Thailand’s tigers in the long run is also a serious look into the middlemen and end-users of tiger bones and other forest products. These people must be apprehended and the masses educated to see the fallacy in using wild animal parts to cure ailments. The Asian medicine trade is still in full swing and will be next to impossible to stop.
But this practice has been going on for hundreds to thousands of years in China where the tiger first evolved two million years ago. The Chinese tiger is extinct in the wild but they now have loads of ‘tiger farms’. Unfortunately, wild tigers are the most sought after for the black market trade. It is a bad situation out there that seems to be getting worse and on the increase due to the ever-increasing population explosion. Sadly and in the long-run, the tiger will simply disappear if things do not change..!
Last month I posted some photos collected from my BFOutdoors P41 trail cam and decided to leave it for one more set. The following pics are what the great little trail cam has captured. Of note: I got four captures of a black leopard which is simply amazing….plus I two Indochinese tigers…I have moved this cam to another location further up the road and have installed my Canon 600D on the tree across from the daytime black leopard shot so that could also be interesting when I visit in a few days…two deer species and a banteng also crossed in front of the P41…Enjoy..!
A black leopard in the afternoon: A Canon 600D is setup on the tree opposite the leopard…!
A female tiger at night.
A male tiger in late afternoon.
Another black leopard capture.
A male muntjac (barking deer).
Male muntjac again.
A banteng crossing in the daytime.
A young sambar stag in velvet.
A ‘Hybrid’ trail cam – Sony A55 DSLR/Minolta 50mm macro lens
Sony A55 DSLR – Minolta 50mm Macro lens.
DSLR trail cameras for the most part are pretty big. Camera-trappers have built them mostly using the Pelican 1200 and even the 1300 case, and other makes like Plano and Seahorse large cases have also been used.
I have built a few now and like the smaller Pelican 1150 for my Nikon D700 and D300s plus a Canon 400D and 600D with 8-volt SLA battery packs, and even a smaller Pelican 1120 for a Sony A500 but they are still pretty big and standout sitting on a tree in the forest.
Top view of a Sony A55/Minolta 50mm in a ‘Tupperware’ type box.
In my case, elephant’s will home in on strange objects and strength plus rigidity is the No: 1 priority. With my ‘elephant proof’ boxes and three to four lag bolts, these hard and sharp edged external aluminum boxes have survived the forest giant stomping test many times…!
But I wanted something smaller. After some sole searching, I found this lockable plastic box (a Tupperware type) that would allow a small Sony A55 DSLR to just sit in the box with a Minolta 50mm ‘macro’ lens (just happen to have this lens from my old days when I used Minolta cameras). A pair of 18650 Lithium 4.2 volts for externals is used. The A55 is a 12 megabyte camera and is perfect for a camera trap.
Side view showing connections for flashes (two-pin) and sensor (three-pin).
The Minolta lens works in the Sony perfectly. The snorkel is a length of 77mm diameter thin aluminum tubing secured to the box with Goop. I prefer this to the large, thick and heavy PVC tubing. Goop is also used to attach a 77mm UV filter to the snorkel.
A dedicated ‘elephant proof’ box was built to house the fragile plastic box and camera. I have incorporated a cover to protect the wires and plugs from probing elephant trunks. Four stainless steel lag bolts and a 10mm Python cable secure the box to a tree.
Sony A55/Minolta 50mm showing 18650 4.2-volt externals.
As I won’t be using the flip-up flash or a dedicated hot-shoe flash, I’m using a TTL head and hard-wire everything using two-terminal quick-disconnect plugs for the flashes. A three-terminal plug is used for the sensor, and I seal the plugs with 3M-silicon sealant as shown in the photos. I’ve installed a thin aluminum plate to beef-up this area.
Three flashes are on 10-meter lengths of two-conductor shielded wire with gland fittings on the flash boxes. The fourth flash is on a 15-meter wire to be placed across from the cam hoping to get backlighting of some sort (the set-up and location will require experimentation). I’m using three SB-28s and one SB-80 Nikon flash. All flashes are in ‘Tupperware’ type boxes with elephant proof shrouds made up.
Sony A55 with hard-wired Nikon flashes and SSII hard-wired sensor.
The sensor is a Snapshotsniper SSII with a #5 chip, also on a 10-meter hard-wire cable to be installed on a trail about 6-8 meters from the cam. This way I can focus precisely at the sensor.
I have the perfect place for this cam…to replace the Sony P41 that has captured tiger and leopard plus many other creatures. I will be setting it up in a few days. The rainy season has started and there are not many people around in this area. I’m hoping for some dramatic shots of a black leopard and the other cryptic animals that pass by.
Sony A55 trail cam and ‘elephant proof’ box.
A Sony P41 post with tiger and black leopard to follow…!
A Canon 400D-Nikon 55mm and a Canon 600D-Nikon 20mm
Canon 400D with a Nikon 55mm ‘Macro’ lens on the left, and a Canon 600D with a Nikon 20mm lens on the right.
Working in the Western Forest Complex in Thailand has been extremely satisfying with loads of wild animals passing my cams. This forest is one of the greatest tiger reserves in the world and I look forward to every visit checking my DSLRs…! After the great results from my Canon 400D last month catching a tiger plus yellow and black phase leopards, I decided to finish off these two cams that had been on the bench for sometime.
Both cams in Pelican 1150s with 8-volt SLA external batteries.
As I wanted to leave these cams in the forest for several months over the rainy season, I added an 8-volt SLA battery and hacked into the battery grip (I will do a post on this mod very soon). It was a fairly easy task and both cams fit in the Pelican 1150 with ease plus the SLA battery lying horizontally in the case. After charging up the cam’s batteries and hooking up the externals, they will stay on for months, and just what I needed for a long soak. Time will tell and the 600D is now set-up on a known wildlife trail frequented by the big carnivores including black leopard.
600D showing connections to external sensor and flashes.
I’m using a Snapshotsniper SSII external sensor on the 600D and 400D with both cams set on ‘continuous’ mode. Both sensors are on 10-meter 4-conductor shielded wire housed in ‘Tupperware’ type boxes and hooked up to the cam with 3-prong quick detachable plugs and the sensor boxes with cable glands.
400D showing connections to external sensor and flashes.
The flashes are a mix-pot of Nikon SB-26s and 28s also housed in Tupperware type boxes and hooked up to the cam with 2-prong quick detachable plugs and 10 meters of 2-conductor shielded wire and cable gland on the sensor box. I am standardizing all my flashes with two-conductor shielded-cable and eventually, will be able to inter-change my flashes with all my DSLRs in the field. That way, if I have a problem with a flash (stomped by elephant or some other failure), I will be able to quickly change one out and replace it. That will also go for the three-conductor external sensors…!
600D with external 10 meter hard-wired sensor and flashes.
As usual, I built ‘elephant proof’ boxes that I have made-up for these two Canons. Python 10mm cable locks are used and 3” stainless steel lag bolts are screwed into the tree from inside the box. The faceplate is bolted to the box using six power-torque 10mm machine screws. Camouflage is made up of spray paint (earth brown and army green) plus ‘morning glory’ plastic leaves wrapped with thorny branches to keep the elephants at bay.
400D with external 10 meter hard-wired sensor and flashes.
Hope this helps those people on the forum wanting to build a long-soak Canon ‘Rebel’ sized DSLR home-brew trail cam. I normally don’t use Canon but really like these cams for capturing wildlife. They are quiet and quick enough. The 600D has good file size so cropping is a plus.
600D and ‘elephant proof’ aluminum box.
Actually (don’t tell anybody), I’m changing out two Nikon D300 bodies for Canon 550D or 600Ds…they just seem to work better. But, I’m still sticking to my Nikon lenses with a Canon adapter. Real glass and metal materials are the best lenses for trail cams…but that’s just my opinion…!!
A short video and camera trap photos of a banteng bull in the ‘Western Forest Complex’ of Thailand. My Nikon D700 and a Bushnell Trophy Cam captured this seriously injured creature. This is ‘raw’ nature and could be disturbing to some…but this is the natural world and how it really is……!
A male cat shows off its family jewels…!
A male leopard with its reproductive organs in full swing…Shot No: 6.
Back at the end of June, I pulled a card from my D300s DSLR trail cam at the ‘big cat trailhead’ and when I looked, I did not see anything so I threw the card in the with the rest of my CF cards.
Shot No: 1
It was somehow put into my D3s but fortunately I did not format it. After doing some work while in the forest last week, I pulled both cards (Nikon D3s had two CF card slots) and downloaded them.
Shot No: 2
Imagine my surprise…! There was a male leopard and he had been captured at night while walking past the D300s. Where the heck did that come from…?
Shot No: 3
I guess my short-term memory is on the blink. Unfortunately, the other two flashes were dead creating a horrible shadow…!
Shot No: 4
Needless to say, I’m lucky I did not lose these shots and of course, shot No: 6 is my favorite…enjoy…!
Shot No: 5
Nikon D300s set to low continuous.
Nikon 35mm manual lens.
ƒ11 @ 1/125 ISO 400
Single SB-28 set to full (the other two flashes did not fire and were dead).
SSII sensor #6 chip – Pelican 1150.