by Patrick McShea
In the Hall of North American Wildlife at Carnegie Museum of Natural History, there’s a display of field
research tools that includes a 14-inch screen that continually shows still images of bobcats, black bears, and
other seldom seen residents of Powdermill Nature Reserve, the museum’s environmental research center. The images were collected in photo traps, sturdy programmable cameras with shutters triggered by motion or heat sensors.
A photo trap unit rests adjacent to the screen with its lights, lens, and sensors facing outward. The compactness
of the camouflage-patterned device contrasts with enormous contributions such cameras are currently making in wildlife conservation studies. Single cameras can collect photographic evidence of rarely seen species at a low financial cost and with minimal disturbance of the targeted creatures. Arrays of strategically placed cameras can be used to calculate population densities and chart individual territories.
Around the corner from the display a clipboard-mounted activity sheet invites visitors to try their skill at interpreting photo trap evidence at the nearby Jaguar diorama.
For anyone interested in how photo traps are documenting the
continued presence jaguars and ocelots in the American southwest, the US Fish
and Wildlife Service maintains a site of spotted cat images.
Patrick McShea works in the Education and Visitor Experience department of Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Museum employees are encouraged to blog about their unique experiences of working at the museum.