Jungle cameras "trap" native species

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FCF teamed up with biologist Jim Sanderson of Conservation International and the Playa de Oro Reserva de Tigrillos in January 2003 to kick off a wildlife surveillance camera project in the rainforests of Ecuador. The camera project's main thrust is documenting the activity and prey species of six South American wild feline species; margay, ocelot, jaguarundi, oncilla, cougar and jaguar.

For Tracy Wilson, Conservation Director of the Feline Conservation Federation (FCF) news that “tigrillos” had been trapped in the jungle of Ecuador kept her anxiously checking her mailbox.

She tingled with excitement when four images of wild ocelots “trapped” on camera were mailed to her from the rainforest of South America.

“We at FCF teamed up with biologist Jim Sanderson of Conservation International and Playa de Oro Reserva de Tigrillos in January 2003,” she said. “Our goal was to kick off a wildlife surveillance camera project in the rainforests of Ecuador.”

The camera project’s main thrust is documenting the activity of six wild feline species; margay, ocelot, jaguarundi, oncilla, cougar and jaguar, collectively known as “tigrillos” by the native people.

“We’ll also look at the animals they prey on, all this within the boundaries of a reserve called Playa de Oro Reserva de Tigrillos,” Wilson pointed out.

Using four of Sanderson’s film cameras, the group relies on Sanderson to oversee the project and to analyze data collected.

“My job was to provide the fieldwork, install the cameras, and train the local staff on how to keep them in working order,” Wilson said.

By November 2003 the project gained additional support when the Cincinnati Zoo Keepers awarded a $1,950 grant to buy three more cameras – these digital.

“Whenever any type of animal comes within range of a camera’s heat and motion sensors, the camera takes their picture,” Wilson said.

“I also lead tours to the reserve several times a year to bring income to the reserve and village, and use this time to check in on the project and troubleshoot any equipment problems.”

The 25,000-acre reserve belongs to the people of Playa de Oro, who live without electricity, phones, mail service, or roads.

Located in the El Choco Rainforest, one of the wettest and least studied regions in the world, the reserve dedicates its efforts to protecting margay and other wild felines.

FCF members have donated a satellite phone, solar panels, battery-powered tools, a laptop computer, veterinary and animal care supplies.

“We’ve even funded repairs to the lodge’s roof,” Wilson said. “And those of us from FCF visiting share our knowledge of animal husbandry and pitch in to build enclosures for wildlife being rehabilitated for release.”

FCF, a non-profit organization devoted to conservation of wild cat species is working to make the research community aware of Playa de Oro Reserve.

“Our long-term goal is a telemetry program to document existing cats’ territories,” Wilson said. “And when the reserve receives an ocelot or margay suitable for release back into the wild, the animal should also be radio-collared so that we can monitor its progress.”

Such data can then be used in similar rescue operations elsewhere.

Guided tours to Playa de Oro are hosted by FCF several times a year. Villagers earn income and guests enjoy a quality experience with minimal impact upon the native ecosystem.

For information about Playa de Oro Reserve and future tours visit the Feline Conservation Federation web site at http://www.felineconservation.org.

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