Since the late 1800s, researchers and the curious have been trying to use photography to capture images of animals in the wild. Over the decades, the technology behind these camera traps has gone from trip-wire film cameras to sophisticated digital rigs. And these days, with the accessibility of digital video, the footage being collected is absolutely arresting. Check out the World Wildlife Fund or the Wildlife Conservation Society to see some of their videos of tigers, gorillas, and rhinos in their natural habitats.
Closer to home, we caught up with a technology specialist who works at Jasper Ridge, Stanford University's 12-hundred acre wildlife preserve just miles from the campus near Palo Alto, Calif. Trevor Hebert has installed more than 30 still and video cameras throughout the property in hopes of keeping track of the various species that prowl the land. "They're giving us baseline data that tells us what is normal for our population of animals here. What types of animals we have, where they're active, when they're active, what kind of behavior they have. All of these things allow us to know immediately if there's a change because now we have something to compare to."
Hebert's still and video camera tech is on the bleeding edge of what's being used around the world. Both types of cameras are triggered by an infrared motion sensor and are rigged with an infrared flash that can effectively capture the animals in the black of night without disturbing them. Also, all of Hebert's camera batteries are charged by the sun, eliminating the need for much human attention. Finally, the entire property is blanketed by a wireless network that transmits the cameras' images and videos directly to Hebert's e-mail account. "First thing (I do) in the morning when I come into work is go through the pictures to see what happened last night at Jasper Ridge."
Over the years, Hebert has collected thousands of images of mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, possums, skunks, raccoons, squirrels, rabbits, owls, hawks, jays among others. "The biggest surprise was the abundance of mountain lions. When we started seeing weekly pictures of mountain lions at certain times of year, we were pretty amazed."