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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Linking camera trap data and non-invasive sampling: Jaguars 'Obsessed' by CK Cologne

One of the weakness of using genetics alone to monitor wild animal populations is that in general its pretty difficult to determine the age of the depositor. Poop size can be used in some species but it leaves much to be desired. Levels of certain hormones can also be measured to determine pre- or post- pubescence, but the method has not been well developed yet. With camera trapping you can actually see the animals you are studying, including their broad age-class, as well as their behaviours and associations - although identification can be a problem when many apes are observed. The method described below combines the two methods by attracting Jaguars with Cologne which makes them rub their face up against the camera, where harmless hair snag traps are laid. Its the next best thing to having the animal poop in front of the camera! I am not sure how intrusive and ethical this would be do to apes and if the hair snags would work since they don't exhibit the rubbing behaviour, but they certainly can be curious around the cameras (see examples here and below from the Goualougo Triangle) although the general goal with apes is to have the cameras go unnoticed. -MA

From via the RARE facebook page
Jaguars ‘Obsessed’ by Calvin Klein Cologne

I’ve written a lot about conservation biologists using automatically activated cameras, or camera traps, to study elusive wildlife. But this is the first time I’ve heard of a men’s cologne, in this case Calvin Klein’s Obsession for Men, proving useful in such work.

Starting in 2003, biologists for the Wildlife Conservation Society, which among many activities runs the Bronx Zoo, began testing various perfumes and colognes on captive cats as possible attractants for camera trapping work. Patrick Thomas, the curator who initiated that effort, told me that the products containing musk were particularly good at eliciting the “cheek-rubbing behavior” that is helpful in studies seeking hair samples from passing cats as a way to check their DNA. (He emphasized that the fashion house has no involvement in the work.)

Last year, the cologne was used as the attractant in camera studies aimed at determining the population density of jaguars in the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala. The photograph and the video sequence here show the results. [A reader makes an important point below about the source of some musk used in perfumes and the like -- civets and other wildlife. A student posted some useful background on this awhile back.]

One take-home lesson might be to leave the scents at home if you plan on a wildlife excursion any time soon — although Thomas noted that Obsession didn’t work well when he tried it in a research project focused on predatory cats in South Africa.

Camera Trap Ape Videos from the Goualougo Triangle:

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