Land Conservation and Forest Restoration, Science and Research, Wildcats

Camera traps capture life in the wild

by Lauren Lipuma

Capturing a photo of an animal in its natural habitat is difficult at best, so for the past hundred-odd years camera traps have provided a distinct advantage to ecologists – allowing researchers to capture an image with minimal disturbance to the animal and without risking bodily harm. The first camera traps, pioneered by wildlife photographer George Shiras III in the late 1890s, consisted of a large camera and a trip wire connected to a car battery. When an animal tripped the wire, the battery would ignite a small quantity of flash powder to create a burst of light just as the camera’s shutter snapped. Though hardly inconspicuous to the passing animal, the method worked – giving Shiras his first remote glimpse of life in the wild – and the following image of several deer bounding away from the bright flash into the dark night.


Photograph by George Shiras III, 1906. Copyright National Geographic.


As camera and flash technology improved, traps became smaller and less conspicuous, though never completely undetectable to passing animals. Flash powders were replaced with light bulbs, and the pressure-based trip wires were replaced with infrared motion or heat sensors. Today, some cameras even use infrared flashes which are invisible to the animal but can only produce black-and-white images, like this one of two zebras sharing a nighttime drink:


Zebras at watering hole in Namibia. Photo taken using an infrared flash.


Light flashes, on the other hand, provide stunning color photos but risk scaring off or even angering an animal, such as this wild Sumatran tiger who was so annoyed by the traps laid out for him that he destroyed three in a single weekend.


Sumatran Tiger. Photo credit: Arddu


In 2006, on assignment for National Geographic, George Steinmetz became the first photographer to use digital camera traps in the wild – taking this breathtaking photo of a young mountain lion at his watering hole in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert.


Photo credit: George Steinmetz. Copyright National Geographic.


Camera traps have provided invaluable information on species all over the world, from number and presence of different animals to breeding status and gender ratio. They have even captured images of previously-undocumented species – such as the African golden cat and the world’s largest armadillo, seen below.


Giant armadillo (Priodontes maximus). Copyright Gabriel Rojo.


Camera traps at the Osa Peninsula

One of the last places in Central America able to sustain a full range of large cats, the Osa peninsula is home to the Jaguar, Puma, Ocelot, Jaguarundi and Margay. The most sensitive of large cats to habitat alteration, jaguars in particular are seen as a “health indicator species” – a marker for the health of an entire rainforest ecosystem. Using a vast network of camera traps, Osa Conservation monitors these majestic felines, generating data that is crucial to assessing the effectiveness of conservation efforts in the Osa peninsula.


Check out some of the big cats we’ve captured around our stations!


Puma (Puma concolor)


Jaguar (Panthera onca)


Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis)





Land Conservation and Forest Restoration, Marine Conservation, Science and Research

OC launches new wetlands project!

Taking advantage of a socio-environmental opportunity, Osa Conservation launches new Wetlands Program in the Terraba Sierpe wetlands

by Andrés Jimenez

Terraba Sierpe wetlands, Costa Rica. Photo credit: Cavu


Wetlands have become a focus of interest worldwide recently, not only because of their ecological importance but also because the climate crisis has reminded us of these ecosystems’ capabilities for mitigation and adaptation to climate change. But why should we all turn our eyes to these wet, swampy, mosquito-infested areas? The answer is simple: protecting wetlands is a very smart environmental and economic decision. In the United States alone, the associated ecosystem services of these areas have been estimated at US$14 trillion annually (Russi et al 2013). Wetlands hold the potential of not only protecting wildlife and biodiversity, but also of keeping traditional livelihoods, mitigating carbon emissions, adapting communities to climate change and protecting natural water sources.


Let’s have a look at the definition of a wetland – after all, most of us can’t really tell what a ‘wetland’ is, and its definition has proven to be complicated on a practical basis.  According to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, a wetland can be defined as  “areas of marsh, fern, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water of which the depth at low tide does not exceed six meters”.  So basically, every single water related space could potentially be a wetland, including coral reefs, rivers, lagoons, aquiculture farms, rice paddies, mangroves and so on and so forth. This broad definition creates both opportunities and limitations – under that logic, an abandoned pool in the middle of a recovering land can even be qualified as a wetland. With these limitations in mind, protecting wetlands can generate a challenge when you have to settle the different interests of communities and people with those of conservation.


Keeping this tricky, broad definition in mind, it is of upmost importance to understand that wetland ecosystems are also cultural landscapes. Ramsar Convention, the world’s leading authority on the matter, recognizes these areas as combined works of nature and humankind that express a long and intimate relationship between people and their natural environment (Gland, 2008). Denying this approach can be lethal for many wetlands in the world, whilst embracing it can bring an effective model into place, one of community self-management.


In Costa Rica, while managing a wetland, approaching communities living inside the wetland is unavoidable, especially in protected areas. Under these conditions, new socio- environmental opportunities are created where government, organizations, companies and communities can work together towards non-traditional models of conservation, where people have the opportunity to rise up to the challenge of protecting and using these cultural landscapes on self-management based models.


Indigeneous family paddling in a mangrove forest. Photo credit: Andrés Jiménez


At Osa Conservation we believe that in order to keep biodiversity functional we need to come up with new models of conservation that balance the needs of ecosystem users and the species that live within them. With the wetland program the organization aims to work with the authorities and local peoples to protect these ecosystems, where managing these areas becomes a socio-environmental challenge, but even more importantly as an opportunity.


Follow our blog so you can find out more about the new program and the specific projects. In following posts we will be updating on the Terraba Sierpe Wetland Project, where we aim to bring this socio-environmental opportunity to a practical reality.


Andrés Jiménez

Wetland Program Manager

Osa Conservation



Community Outreach, Environmental Education

Students on the “Discovering the Rainforest” Trail


By: Pilar Bernal

This past July 30, 16 students from Carbonera, Rio Oro and Piro schools toured the “Discovering the Rainforest” interpretive trail accompanied by two teachers and two persons familiar with the trail.

During the tour, the students enjoyed a morning in the forest learning about the ecology of rainforests at each station on the path.   We had an opportunity to observe spider monkeys, Baird’s Trogon, snakes, and to observe and admire giant forest trees like the Ajo, Reseco, Baco, and Ojoche trees.

This portion of the interpretive trail “Discovering the Rainforest” will be one of many that students from local schools can use, where experiential learning promotes awareness and ecosystem conservation and biodiversity of the Osa.


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