Nicholas School Internship Blogs

Choosing a Camera Site
by -- June 10th, 2013

Last week I mentioned that I’ve been scouting Neuras for camera trap sites. You may be wondering, what makes a good site?

We have twenty cameras with two cameras at each site, or ten sites at a time. We sample each site for four weeks with two sampling periods, for a total of twenty sites in the study. We have divided the estate into a western zone and an eastern zone with ten sites in each zone. Among those ten sites, we station five at watering places such as artificial waterholes or pools of standing water, and the other five sites are at least one kilometer from known water sources.

Locations of ten camera traps in the western zone of the Neuras Wine & Wildlife Estate.

Choosing water sites is comparatively easier than choosing dry sites. There aren’t many places where water occurs. Excluding the holes that animals dig into the riverbeds, I found fewer than ten watering places in the western zone, most of them in the Tsauchab riverbed. Watering places are great because they attract an abundance of wildlife, but they are also problematic because you will notice from that map that they are not distributed evenly around the western zone.

Camera trap at a natural pool in the Tsauchab riverbed at the Neuras Wine & Wildlife Estate. We found multiple scratch marks from a leopard on the large fig tree in the background and we found a kudu carcass scattered nearby.

Dry sites are more difficult to choose since they can occur anywhere. But Neuras is a rocky landscape and the desert-adapted plants have teeth and claws longer and sharper than any of the animals—teeth so long that they frequently puncture tires and the soles of hiking boots. As a result, animals are as likely to follow trails as humans are. Game tracks and roads are thus good spots for cameras. Leopards, as stealth hunters, also have a tendency to walk in low areas with lots of cover to hide them, namely streambeds. The intersection of streambeds, or of streambeds and game tracks, thus make excellent camera sites.

 

Intersection of streambed and game-track in the Tsauchab riverbed, Neuras Wine & Wildlife Estate. Baboons and kudu footprints cover the area and Kate found leopard prints leading down into the streambed less than ten meters away.

The landscape reveals other indicators of where leopards, hyenas, and their prey are common. Footprints and scat are excellent indicators. Carcasses betray the presence of carnivores. Leopards leave clear scratch marks on trees to mark their territory with pheromones from the scent glands between their toes.   

Leg from a kudu carcass near a natural pool in the Tsauchab riverbed.

Leopard footprint in a streambed running down the slopes of the Naukluft Mountains.

Leopard scratch marks on a fig tree in the Tsauchab riverbed.

We find signs of wildlife all over the estate. When choosing a site, we must also consider the best way to position the cameras, the angle of the sun, and the proximity of each site to other potential sites. It is a subjective process and I have no qualms admitting that I frequently second-guess our site selection. Time will tell how well we’ve chosen.

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