Malaysia: Camera traps 'capture' wildlife

M. HAMZAH JAMALUDIN New Straits Times 25 Nov 15;

GERIK: Photos of wildlife in their natural habitat will always amaze us and a big-scale camera trapping project initiated by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) has captured thousands of them.

Besides the photos, there are also hundreds of video clips of wild animals in action in the forest reserves here.

The camera traps have also helped the authorities nab poachers looking for prized wildlife and forest resource, such as gaharu (agarwood).

“While it is easier to film the animals in an open savannah, capturing animal images or videos in a tropical forest is challenging as they avoid human encounter,” said Perhilitan Perak director Rozidan Mohd Yasin.

The camera trapping project is being implemented in the Gerik Ecological Corridor (GEC) here. The GEC is a forest complex of more than 320,000ha, comprising the Royal Belum State Park, and the Amanjaya and Temenggor forest reserves.

Remotely activated, a camera trap is equipped with a motion sensor as a trigger. Worth RM2,500 each, a camera can take pictures at night while the video camera can record animals and its surroundings in colour.

Perhilitan research officer Tan Cheng Cheng, who is in charge of the project, said the camera traps were installed at strategic locations to ensure that they would not be damaged by animals or poachers.

From the photos and videos collected since the project kicked off in 2012, Perhilitan has made important discoveries that helped them understand the unique ecosystem in one of the oldest forests in the world.

Tan said 120 camera traps were installed in 60 grids within the forest complex. Each grid has a still photo camera and a video camera.

To their surprise, the photos and videos showed that 12 of the 14 large mammals in Peninsular Malaysia could be found in GEC.

“All 12 species have been captured on our cameras. The only animals not found there are the almost-extinct Sumateran rhino and bearded pig, which only roam in the southern part of the peninsula,” said Tan.

The species that were recorded are the Asian elephant, barking deer, clouded leopard, gaur, sun bear, tapir, tiger, sambar deer, wild boar, serow, leopard and dhole.

The discovery of the dhole is interesting as it is difficult to locate. In the videos, it could be seen marking its territory with its urine in a peculiar way, where both hind legs were raised.

Tan said they had recorded 51 species of wildlife in the area, which proved that the GEC had among the highest biodiversity in the world. She said another interesting find was the biggest herd of elephants, comprising 50 heads, adding that the group was recorded near a wildlife crossing viaduct at the Gerik-Jeli highway.

Rozidan said the camera traps helped Perhilitan nab poachers since the photos would be sent to its officers’ smartphones every few minutes.

Under the National Blue Ocean Strategy, he said, the department would share the information with other enforcement agencies, including the Armed Forces, Forestry Department and State Park Corporation.
He said the biggest arrest was made in 2013, when encroachers were nabbed with RM2 million worth of stolen agarwood.

Although efforts were taken to protect the camera traps, he said 30 per cent of them were damaged and had to be replaced.

While the installation of the camera traps may curb poaching activities, Rozidan said the most effective way to conserve wildlife was support from various parties, especially the public.

He said the public should play its part by alerting the authorities of suspicious activities in the forest while at the same time, protect the animals by not catching, killing or keeping them.