Saturday, August 23, 2008

Wildlife and their reaction to game cameras

There appears to be a lot of discussion about the reaction of wildlife and the flash of game cameras. Does the flash change or alter an animals behavior or way of life? My answer to this question is a definite "No".

In order to answer this question you must not think as a human, but as an animal whose life depends on being aware of all threats to its life by using their eyes, ears and nose to sense any danger. Should any animal feel threatened by a camera or flash, the answer is no and my trail photos show this to be true. Does the smell or odor of a human bother animals, that is also a no. Animals know whether a human is close by or has been in the area days before, their lives depend on knowing this as well as knowing whether any other predator is lurking about.

An example is a deer bedded down at night and smelling a bear, bobcat, coyote or even a cougar in the area and looking for food. First instinct for a human is to run, but a deer lives with this every day of its life and understands that where it lays it will have several routes of escape ready and will wait till it knows for sure of where the danger is coming from and then decides what should be done. They understand the results of making a mistake could be death, but it's not fear that keeps them alive but instinct through learned behavior.

I can go to the same trails year after year and get photos of the animals that use these trails because the camera doesn't make them change their habits or use a different trail. Here's two pictures of a bobcat taken in fast picture mode showing that the first flash had zero effect on the bobcat. I have many such photos of all kinds of different animals showing the same results.


At 7:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for putting forth this information from your solid evidence in your photographs, observations and your skills in the backcountry. I too agree with you and was glad to find your site when looking into game cameras. There is sooo much hype in pre packaged fancy cams out there it is hard to sort out fact and over-gadget bells and marketing whistles.

Thank you again for refreshing content. I really enjoy your site .


At 10:49 AM, Blogger randomtruth said...

Good info. Have you factored in habituation and variance across animal species in this analysis? I.e., do you think that maybe the animals you get good pics of are now used to the flash? And perhaps there are still other species or individuals that are not and stay away? I have an IR flash cam now and am thinking of getting a white flash cam for #2 as a complement...

At 4:59 PM, Blogger cliff said...

glad you enjoy the blog. I spend hours just placing the cameras for different animals so the background makes a good photograph.

randomtruth, very good question on factoring in the variances across animal species. I have done this by using coyotes, mink, otter, bear, deer and elk in my study, plus I move my cameras to a new location after I get the photos I'm after so the animals can't become used to the flash. Most are first time photos in the locations.

Most animals travel in a large circle, elk usually use different areas in spring, summer, fall and winter --- male mink travel during breeding season and may go as far as 20 miles in one night --- bobcats will take about 3 to 4 weeks to make a loop and otter travel to and from rivers and ponds in search of food. The trick is to understand where and why these animals are in a certain location at any time during the year. Most of the time it relies on food and breeding season, other factors will come into play for deer and elk because of there antler growth. During the velvet they try to stay in an open area because their antlers are soft and growing, but as soon as they get hard and loose the velvet they will head for brushy country and start getting ready for breeding season.

This is why it's so important to understand animal behavior, get the cameras into an area, get the pictures you want and move them to another area. This way you are able to estimate the population of different species of animals without affecting their habits.

Good luck with your camera and I hope this information helps.


At 7:17 PM, Blogger Sean said...

Hi Cliff, glad you put this out there . I couldn't agree with you more. In the 4 years that I've been using trail cameras and the tens of thousands of pictures I've captured of all types of animals, they've not changed their habits. They continue to use the same routes. Generation after generation continue to pass by and 99% of the time they never so much as touch my cameras let alone attack them in anger.

Sean (Willy4003)

At 9:27 AM, Blogger randomtruth said...

Thanks Cliff, that's really helpful. In my case it is especially important to not change behavior - because I can't pick up and move. I'm tracking the comings and goings in a fixed 40 acres that is near Yosemite and on a natural predator-prey transit.

I don't want to do anything that would scare the animals away from coming through that 40 acres (it is, however, a little disconcerting to know a mtn lion comes by your house), nor do I want to do anything unnatural to increase animal activity or frequency (bait, for example).

Hence my questions about white flash cameras... :)

Any other thoughts you have about my situation would be appreciated. Thanks again. You and the Codger are both a huge help to us newbies!

At 7:11 PM, Blogger cliff said...

I googled your area around the park and here's how I would study the animals. If you have a GPS I would set the camera on a good trail for a week and mark it on a grid map, move it once a week when checking and travel to the camera using a different trail each time. This will have the lowest effect on the animals plus you won't be leaving a trail to your camera and avoid theft. Mark each animal to the site so you can keep track of what animals use the trail and where they are located and the date. This should get you started until you get more cameras, and I'm sure you will, this can get addictive.

Good luck,



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