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Collective Action for Conservation: Osa’s Camera Trap Network

Blog written by Juan Carlos Crus Diaz, Feline Program Coordinator

I can clearly remember:  It was a hot but humid morning, which is common in this area during the dry season. As we walk through the rainforest, we struggle to keep our pace on the trail – it is steep and the humidity make us feel like we are running a marathon. We come to the last hill and finally reach the ridge of the mountain chain that goes through Piedras Blancas National Park. We summit the top and can see both the dense forest on one side and the ocean in the other. The views are amazing!

This location on the Golfo Dulce in the Osa Peninsula is part of the property of Saladero Eco-Lodge, where the owners are excited about partnering with us to study Osa’s wildcats. We strategically place a camera trap along their property on the mountain ridge in hopes to obtain photographic evidence of the mammals, especially wildcats, that rely on these habitat routes to travel long distances.

 

First camera trap photo from Saladero Ecolodge of a jaguar on the property.

First camera trap photo (2014) from Saladero Ecolodge of a jaguar on the property.

After leaving the cameras in place for several months, we returned to retrieve the first photographs –  the results were revealing! Pumas and peccaries were easily spotted on the footage, highlighting the ongoing vital predator-prey relationship in the area. There were also an array of different mammals, birds and other wildlife. What biodiversity!

Great Curassow (Crax rubra) caught on an early camera trap in 2014.

Great Curassow (Crax rubra) caught on an early camera trap in 2014.

 

Collared peccary (Pecari tajacu) caught on an early camera trap in 2014.

Collared peccary (Pecari tajacu) caught on an early camera trap in 2014.

Since placing these first camera traps in 2014, more ecolodges have joined this collective effort. In 2017, partners joined forces around the Osa and launched the “Osa Camera Trap Network” –  one of the most diverse and collaborative research efforts in Central America. Year after year, more people have started to notice the importance of monitoring mammal populations that serve to maintain the integrity of these ecosystems. Communities that once only saw ecotourism development from afar, are now becoming a part of it. Community groups have formed important fauna monitoring projects and more locals have brought ecotourism to their communities where more people can benefit. And, most exciting, these local communities –  along with ecolodges, private owners, universities, governmental institutions and tourism agencies-  have joined together to study the wildcats as part of  this important Osa Camera Trap Network.

Members of the Osa Camera Trap Network from “Rancho Quemado” installing camera traps.

Members of the Osa Camera Trap Network from “Rancho Quemado” installing camera traps.

 

But studying wildcats is difficult. It requires covering large areas and a great amount of manpower.  Four years after the installation of the first camera trap in Saladero Ecolodge, I find myself walking through the dense forest in the boundary of Corcovado National Park and the community of “Los Planes.” Guided by two members of the community, we look for a suitable place  to install their camera trap station. As we sit on a fallen tree and discuss placing a camera trap at this location, I think how much we have achieved in the past four years in order to make this collaborative region-wide initiative a reality.

Members of the Osa Camera Trap Network from the community group of “Los Planes” installing camera traps.

Members of the Osa Camera Trap Network from the community group of “Los Planes” installing camera traps.

This year, the Osa Camera Trap Network is setting up more than 200 camera traps all over the Osa Peninsula!  This is the biggest array of camera traps ever carried out in Central America and importantly, it does not just belong to a single institution but rather to a collective group of stakeholders pursuing the same goal: to generate the scientific information necessary to conserve wildcats and prey.

 

2017 camera trap photo of a jaguar on Osa Conservation's property

2017 camera trap photo of a jaguar on Osa Conservation’s property

Times are changing and methods and approaches for research should change as well. We are in a special time to show that collective efforts can bring good results when it comes to solve problems that concerns to everyone. There is a saying in Costa Rica “Union makes force” but the one I like the most states “An image says more than a thousand words.

To learn more about Osa’s Camera Trap Network, as well as Osa Conservation’s Wildcat Conservation Program, please visit our program website.