Posts Tagged ‘Trail cameras’

Huai Kha Khaeng: A camera trap saga

Friday, April 6, 2012 posted by Bruce 1:59 PM

Thailand’s amazing forest with some beautiful, elusive and rare Asian creatures

Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary is situated in central western Thailand, and is a World Heritage Site. It is the top protected area in the Kingdom. In January 2012, I began a camera trap program to determine the status of wildlife found here. In just a short two months, all the large mammals including elephant, gaur, banteng, tapir, tiger, leopard and many others have been caught by ‘homebrew’ digital camera traps set at various mineral deposits, water holes and game trails situated in the interior of the sanctuary. I have ten trail cams working through till March 31st, 2012. These are the best series. The following photos shows this amazing biodiversity, and this place is truly worthy of its ‘World Heritage Site’ status.

Set-up Number 1: A S600/1010/SSI was set above a water hole close to a ranger station. This cam turned out the most wildlife photos over a two month period. This mineral deposit and waterhole is visited daily by many animals and is one of the best in the sanctuary.

A Sony S600/Pelican 1010/SSI in an ‘Elephant proof ‘ box with a ‘Python’ locking cable

Mature female tiger

Tiger follow-up shot

Young tusker elephant in a herd

Tusker close-up

Tusker about-face

Mature gaur bull

Mature banteng bull

Younger banteng bulls

Mature banteng cow

Banteng cow close-up

Macaque monkey

Camera trapper

Set-up Number 2: Another S600/1010/SSI was set close to the ranger station and a bag of large rotten fish heads was strung up to prevent being taken by a scavenger like a water monitor. Amazingly, a leopard and a big wild boar, both scavengers, came to the bait. The bag can be seen in the boar picture. Boy did it smell..!

S600/1010/SSI in ‘elephant proof’ box with python locking cable.

Leopard male in the stream attracted by the ‘fish head’ bait.

Wild boar hoping for some carrion.

A crab-eating mongoose in the stream after the bait had been cut down.

Set-up Number 3: An old Sony S600/1040/BFOutdoors/2 ‘C’ cell externals in an ‘elephant proof’ box and ‘Python’ locking cable with 3D camouflage was used to catch this tiger mother and her cub (also caught by Bushnell Trophy Cam video twenty meters away). Other shots collected from this cam were deer at night not included here.

Sony S600 in a Pelican 1040 and BFOutdoors board with 2 ‘C’ cell externals

Tiger mother caught close to Subkaow mineral deposit and water hole

‘Eye of a tiger’ as this young cub has a chew on the cam…remarkable shot…!

Set-up Number 4: An older S600 with a Yeticam board in a 2nd generation LBK aluminum boxed cam plus tools for installation. Tiger, tapir and a sambar stag came along this trail about a day’s walk from the ranger station I stay at. This site will be covered by long-range cams with ‘C’ and ‘D’ cell externals for a three-four month period during the rainy season.

Old 2nd generation LBK trail cam in an ‘elephant proof’

housing firmly bolted to a tree with a ‘Python cable and 2 lag bolts.

Rear-end of a tiger along a game trail

Asian tapir at night

Tapir up-close and checking out the cam

‘Eye of a tapir’….not as dramatic as a tiger’s eye..but OK for government work..!

A mature sambar stag, Thailand’s largest cervid

Note: I still have more then ten trail cams working here at the moment including my new Canon DSLR 400D with three wireless flashes, and two of my new W55s. I will also be setting up a homebrew video very soon. I surely will be posting many more camera trap photos of this truly wonderful and magical wildlife sanctuary in the near future.

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Another pair of camera traps for the forest

Tuesday, March 27, 2012 posted by Bruce 2:30 PM

LBK ‘Clear-View’ trail camera project: A pair of W55s but in different cases


W55s in a Pelican 1020 and Otter 2000 cases with SS II boards and 3 AAs

This project came forth with a need for trail cams that could last longer than my customary time of one month between card checks, battery and desiccant replacement. I wanted a camera trap to last at least two-three months without visiting the site. Digital cameras with ‘AA’ externals are the ticket. Over the rainy season would be a perfect setup from August to late October when the forests in Thailand are almost inaccessible due to swollen streams and rivers, and constant rain.

The Sony S600 digital camera has become increasingly difficult to find in Thailand and as of this post, none are available here. But the W50, 55 and 80s and other cameras in the ‘W’ series are easier to get being slightly newer. Actually, I believe the S600 has dried up because of the huge demand for them on eBay and the U.S. homebrew trail camera market.

Sony W55s in Pelican-Otter cases with SSIIs and AA externals

The second-hand camera shops in Bangkok are in ‘Chinatown’ and many have loads of different models to choose from. I picked up two W55s for a song, ordered a couple of Gary’s amazing little SSII boards, found a Pelican 1020 plus an Otter 2000, both in clear, and triple ‘AA’ battery packs for these two trail cams. Everything fit easily and I put them together in my shop.

I built two ‘elephant proof’ boxes from 3mm sheet aluminum and had my welder ‘Tig’ it all together. I now have incorporated half-inch alloy rods welded into the corners for a cleaner look, and then drilled and tapped for 10mm ‘power torque’ machine screws. Faceplates are machined for lens, flash and sensor from 3mm aluminum plate.

Back-end of ‘elephant proof’ boxes with Stainless 3″ lag bolts and washers

An aluminum tube is welded to the front for a Python 10mm locking cable and what I call ‘shark teeth’ are welded on the back to lock the cam in place on a tree. Two 3/8” x 3” stainless lag bolts secure it from inside the box and the backs are beefed up with ¼” plate where the bolts are (see photo). These units have proven to withstand the carnage handed out by wild elephants or poachers that sometimes can be a disaster waiting to happen.

There is a mineral lick more than a days walk from the ranger station I work out of in Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary. I intend to set these two cameras plus a few others with externals at this location and let them work for a couple of months. This should be an interesting set and I will post photos and set-up when the time comes.


Both units with an upgrade to 3 AA battery packs

Sony W55/Pelican 1020/Snapshotsniper SSII/3 AAs: This unit is for normal installation on a vertical tree housed in an aluminum box. A camouflage paint pattern was applied to the ‘elephant proof’ box. A ‘Python’ locking cable runs around the front and secures the unit in conjunction with two 3” stainless steel lag bolts and washers from inside the box.

Sony W55/Otter 2000/SSII/3 AAs: This unit being horizontal is better suited to fallen trees across game trails and other suitable locations that require special set-up. The ‘Python’ locking cable can be run both ways (horizontal or vertical) and hence is slightly more flexible in installation. Lag bolts lock the cam on a tree and the 10mm ‘power torque’ machine screws close up the faceplate making these tough to get into or off a tree.

Note: I originally installed two ‘C’ cells and when turned on, they began leaking in a couple of days but I saved the camera and board just in time and the camera’s finish got slightly blotchy. I also had to remove the lens door which now works very smoothly.  I then removed the ‘C’ cells and replaced them with 3 AAs packs. The internal components are the same for both cams and alkaline AAs will be used for externals. I look forward to setting these two up sometime next week and leave them for two-three months, and of course, will post any photos at a later date.

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A new DSLR camera trap

Saturday, March 24, 2012 posted by Bruce 1:07 PM

A Canon 400D trail camera with three Canon 270EX speedlights

This DSLR camera trap has been in the making for over a year but with many great opportunities now for tiger, leopard and other interesting wildlife photographs, I decided to finish it off.

DSLR Canon trail camera components

Canon 400D and ‘elephant proof’ aluminum box


Canon flash components

Close-up of wireless flash units


Machining flash boxes at my machine shop in Chiang Mai

Flash boxes in the raw, with a primer coat and camouflage paint job

Wireless flash trigger external modification

This Canon camera and flash units were assembled into an infrared camera trap using aluminum housings made in my shop at home in Chiang Mai. The main object of this project is to use multiple flashes and get some really great wildlife shots from this DSLR. The system works very well and it will be interesting to see what comes out.

Next week, I’m on my way to my favorite wildlife sanctuary in Thailand: Huai Kha Khaeng. I will be setting this rig where I have captured several tigers and leopard plus sun bear, gaur, banteng, elephant and a host of other animals that visit this mineral deposit and water hole. It should be interesting and I will post set-up and photos as soon as I get some (hopefully a tiger).








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Trail cameras catch Thailand’s cryptic wildlife

Indochinese tiger camera trap abstract

Camera trapping has been around for over a century when George Shiras III making history used the first flashlight camera triggered by trips wires in 1906. In the late twenties, two other men, F.M. Chapman and F.W. Champion, used pressure plates to activate their cameras. National Geographic and other magazines published many photographs from these early pioneers’ work.

In the 1970s, the first commercial camera trap was produced by using ‘active infrared’ to control the cameras followed by that used ‘passive infrared’ controlled traps to set off their cameras. Both companies incorporated simple point-and-shoot film cameras from Olympus and Yashica to capture photographs of wildlife.

Asiatic sun bear in Kaeng Krachan

Active infrared uses a beam between two separate units (transmitter and receiver hooked to a camera) and when the beam is broken, the camera is tripped. One the other hand, passive infrared detects motion within a given area covered by the sensor and will trip the camera when movement is detected (much like the sensors above automated doors in shopping malls and convenience stores). Both systems have merit and used in the right situation work equally well.

These first early-production units were designed and used by hunters in America to scout areas for deer, turkey and bear prior to hunting season. This in turn helped them to indentify trophy animals and movements of game in a given forest.

Gaur bull at a waterhole in Huai Kha Khaeng

It was not long before wildlife researchers found camera traps could also benefit their work with a photograph, plus the time and date, allowing them to create an extensive database of the animals living is a certain area. Behavior, presence/absence and other aspects of mammals, birds and reptiles are recorded.

Gaur cow at a mineral deposit in Kaeng Krachan

Wildlife photographers have also used camera traps to capture images of rare, endangered or cryptic creatures. Some have used simple camera-traps but others have incorporated high-end SLR or DSLR cameras with several flashes.

Banteng bull and forest flies in Huai Kha Khaeng

Steve Winter with National Geographic Magazine got an amazing photo of a snow leopard using a Canon DSLR and three Nikon flashes that won the Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest in 2008. The following year, a camera trap photograph of a wolf jumping over a fence won first prize but was later disqualified as the carnivore was domesticated and trained to jump. The organizers of this prestigious event should put camera trapping into its own category.

Banteng cows at a waterhole in Huai Kha Khaeng

The homebrew ‘Game Cam’ or ‘Trail Cam’ as it is now known by its users in the U.S.A. is a unique device with some units very high tech in its features, yet simple to operate and enjoy for just about anyone that has an interest in capturing photographs of wildlife.

Wild water buffalo caught by the Huai Kha Khaeng

The popularity of these cameras has grown at a fast pace over the last few years and opened up a number of usage possibilities to the users. There is also a huge ‘home-brew’ market for the do-it-yourself enthusiast plus the ready-made models that are available for those with a larger budget and no time to build one.

Serow in Sai Yok reserved forest

Camera traps have become very sophisticated and most now use some form of digital camera incorporated into the housing. There are now many companies producing them for less than one hundred U.S. dollars up to $900 or more.  Some are fair and some quite good but many are not suitable for the tough conditions found in Thailand’s forests, especially the lower cost models.

Sambar stag in Khlong Saeng

As a wildlife photographer and due to the high cost of buying and importing commercial models into Thailand, I decided to produce my own camera traps. In the beginning, I used passive infrared circuit boards obtained from ‘Radio Shack’ in the U.S and had my close friend Yutdhana Anantavara from Chiang Mai, an electrician working offshore in the Gulf of Thailand, to hook-up the delicate electronics and modify some simple ‘point and shoot’ film cameras (Olympus and Canon).

To stand-up to the rigorous conditions in a Thai forest where moisture, invading insects and elephants can destroy plastic bodied camera traps, I designed and built the housings from aluminum at my machine shop in Chiang Mai.

Buffy fish-owl landing by the Phetchaburi River

A local welder TIG welded-up the box and I machined it flat. By using silicon sealant available at most hardware stores between the box and the flat faceplate, and by using large 10mm machine screws to get a tight seal, sealing is 100 percent. These have defeated many inquisitive elephants.

A small bag of silica gel (desiccant) is inserted in the box to protect the delicate circuit boards, cameras and film from moisture. I tested them on feral cats that walked on a wall at the back of my shop with some good results. These early models worked very well and I then decided to deploy them in the forest.

Feral cat camera-trapped behind my shop in Chiang Mai

In mid-2003, I set six camera traps in Sai Yok National Park in western Thailand by wildlife trails and waterholes. Every month, I would visit the traps and change film, batteries and desiccant. After four months, I finally got my first tiger, and then a second cat a few days later up on a 600-meter ridgeline. All the hard work and expense finally paid off.

It was the beginning of a program to catch the tiger on film. Other animals caught in Sai Yok were elephant, sambar, barking deer, wild dog, wild pig, serow and stumped-tailed macaque. I even managed to catch a water monitor on one camera.

Indochinese tiger by the Phetchaburi River

Even some poachers and hunting dogs were captured on film. One of those original film cameras is still working in the field and I named it ‘Tiger Cam’ as it caught my second tiger.

I then moved down to Kaeng Krachan National Park in the Southwest where I spent three years camera trapping wildlife to establish a presence/absence program in conjunction with Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF-Thailand provided funding), and the Department of National Parks granted permission.

Gaur cow and calves in a mineral deposit in Kaeng Krachan

At that time, many tigers and leopards plus loads of prey species were thriving by the Phetchaburi River and a few of its tributaries, and many photographs were obtained over the course of the survey indicating a healthy ecosystem. Both prey and predator were living in natural harmony. I shut down the program after poachers stole three units near the headwaters of the river that was both costly and disappointing.

Sometime in 2007, my good friend Chris Wemmer, the Camera Trap Codger, who is now retired from the Smithsonian Institute, was the first person to tell me about a new company in the US producing infrared circuit boards and other accessories for the home-brew digital camera trap market. The company is Unfortunately, they no longer offer parts but now sell complete units with digital camera and video.

Asian wild dogs by the Phetchaburi River

A quick look on the Internet, and several companies offering boards and components to build ‘homebrew’ trail cameras are on-line. The best and the most reliable are boards from and The list for complete units is long and is best searched on the web.

I finally purchased some of the new high-tech boards and made-up some new traps using Sony ‘point-and-shoot’ digital cameras. These were modified by EDI, a company based in Bangkok to work with the electronic boards. The aluminum cases remained the same as the early production units as the best option for durability, and against moisture and elephants.

Tusker camera trapped at a waterhole in Huai Kha Khaeng

The first units were set-up at several mineral deposits deep in the forest of Kaeng Krachan National Park over a three-month period from October to December 2008. Animals digitally captured were tiger, elephant, gaur, sambar and muntjac. One camera had over 300 captures in one month at a mineral lick of elephant and gaur.

I then moved down to Khlong Saeng Wildlife Sanctuary in Surat Thani, southern Thailand and in the first part of 2009, began a new program setting both film and digital camera traps deep in the interior. Elephants, gaur, tapir, wild pig, sambar, muntjac, golden cat and Argus pheasant were captured.

Giraffe caught in Samburu Game Reserve in Kenya, Africa

This year in September, I made a trip to Kenya, Africa and took two camera traps with me. Due to the strict regulations about exiting the safari vehicle, it was difficult to set them up. But at one location, I was able to install one by a game trail. In four hours, a giraffe and elephant passed the camera. It showed how well these cameras can record passing wildlife, and the giraffe photograph shown in the story is the best one.

LBK camera trap using Sony W7 with a ‘’ infrared board

in aluminum case with ‘Python’ locking cable

I now have more than a dozen digital camera traps using primarily ‘Sony S600 and W7’ cameras. They have been the best and most durable due to the manual features like ISO and f-stop adjustments, and compatibility with the infrared boards. Picture quality with the ‘Carl Zeiss’ lens is very good in the daytime and quite good at night.

The latest craze for camera trappers is ‘infrared capture’. The photos however are a greenish black and white, but are quite good for identification and scientific work. This system is unseen by animals and reported not to disturb them as a conventional flash.

Poachers and dog camera trapped in Sai Yok National Park

Video is another option. I now have two ‘Sony Handy Cams’ set-up with ‘Lanc’ video infrared boards that work very well. One is for daytime only and the other set to ‘night-shot’ with an infrared filter over the video light. Both work together at the same location over the course of a month between battery changes and downloads. It is just another option for those needing wildlife images, whether stills or movie.

The modern digital camera trap has allowed me to capture/recapture many rare and cryptic creatures on their own time, and in their own habitat. As wild animals continue to disappear, more protection, research and understanding are needed to save the natural world.

It is my main priority in life to educate all levels of society on what the Thai nation still has in regards to wildlife and the protected areas, and the need for proactive response to all the dangers facing Mother Nature. We must act fast to illuminate these threats to the Kingdom’s natural world so present and future generations can see, enjoy and cherish this wonderful heritage.

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