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What are camera traps?

Camera traps are remotely-triggered digital cameras that automatically take pictures and/or videos of animals or other subjects passing in front of them. 


Although they come in a variety of shapes and sizes, the basic components of a camera trap are a lens, a sensor (motion or heat sensitive, or both), a flash (incandescent or infra-red for night-time images) and a data storage unit (typically an SD or CF card slot). Most modern camera traps can be adjusted to a wide range of settings, which control the sensitivity of the sensor, the resolution and number of pictures taken at each trigger, and the time delay between consecutive triggers.


Metal cases help protect the cameras from wild animals, especially hyenas and elephants. 

© Rocio Pozo

Why use them?

Camera traps have become very popular in ecology and conservation research as they are non-invasive (i.e. they do not disturb the animal under study), require a low level of labour and collect data continuously, both during the day and at night. Each image is stamped with the time at which it was taken, enabling temporal patterns in a species' activity to be studied.


Camera trap surveys are primarily used to "inventory" species (mainly mammals and birds) occurring in a given area. Image records can also be analysed using more advanced statistical models to estimate the abundance or density of a species of interest. The locations where a species was photographed also give us an indication of the type of habitat it may favour. Finally, camera traps sometimes capture truly unique and unknown behaviour that would have been impossible to witness otherwise.

Four young lions ambush a subadult elephant..

What do I do with them?

Broadly speaking, I am interested in optimising the use of camera trap surveys, and the data they generate, to answer a wide range of questions related to ecology and conservation. In this context, my main research questions so far are the following (you can click on the question to read the related publication).




  • To what extent can we study species interactions using camera trap images?

© Tim Coulson

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