Camera traps reveal surprise number of jaguars in Bolivia

The Wildlife Conservation Society used digital camera traps to capture images of 19 individual jaguars in Madidi National Park, Bolivia.

With technology first used to identify tigers by stripe patterns, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) researchers have identified 19 individual jaguars by spot patterns in the rainforests of Bolivia. This is a record number for a single camera trap survey in the nation, according to an October 19, 2011, press release from WCS.

The animals were identified from a total of 975 photographs, a record number of images – thanks to digital cameras, as opposed to camera traps that use film.

The Wildlife Conservation Society has identified 19 individual jaguars – each with a unique spot pattern – from digital camera trap photos taken in Bolivia’s Madidi National Park. Image Credit: WCS Bolivia Program

The images come from the Alto Madidi and Alto Heath, a region at the headwaters of the Madidi and Heath Rivers inside Bolivia’s Madidi National Park. The survey also included Ixiamas Municipal Reserve, created following a previous WCS survey in 2004 along the Madidi River, which revealed a high abundance of jaguars and other species such as white-lipped peccaries, spider monkeys, and giant otters.

The white-lipped peccary (with tag in ear) is a prey animal for the jaguar. When one white-lipped peccary is injured, the entire herd returns to defend it. There are reports of jaguars being killed in this way – and even some humans. Image Credit: Ana_Cotta

WCS conservationist Robert Wallace said:

We’re excited about the prospect of using these images to find out more about this elusive cat and its ecological needs. The data gleaned from these images provide insights into the lives of individual jaguars and will help us generate a density estimate for the area.

The study is noteworthy in its use of digital camera traps replacing the traditional film units of the past. The cameras are strategically placed along pathways in the forest and especially at the beaches of rivers and streams for weeks at a time, snapping pictures of animals that cross an infrared beam. Now, researchers returning to the traps can download the images in seconds, rather than waiting days for film to develop.

Before embarking on a second field trip to the even more remote Heath River, Bolivian jaguar field biologist Guido Ayala noted:

[The] series of digital images also captures more data than traditional film.

The camera traps snapped pictures of animals that cross an infrared beam. Image Credit: WCS Bolivia Program

Julie Kunen, director of the WCS Latin America and Caribbean Program, said:

The preliminary results of this new expedition underscore the importance of the Madidi landscape to jaguars and other charismatic rainforest species.

A three-year-old jaguar photographed at the Belize Zoo. Image Credit: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen

Madidi National Park is one of the top tourist attractions in Bolivia. It is the centerpiece of a continuous chain of six national protected areas in northwestern Bolivia and southeastern Peru, one of the largest such complexes in the world.

WCS has worked to protect jaguars for decades and launched the WCS Jaguar Conservation Program in 1999 to assess the needs of jaguars in the wild and to minimize potential conflicts with humans.

Bottom line: An October 19, 2011, press release from the Wildlife Conservation Society announced the results of a camera trap survey that showed 19 individual jaguars in Bolivia’s Madidi National Park, underscoring the advantage of digital camera technology in camera traps.

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