Team 1 – forest team
While the cameras must stay in the field for 35 days to allow sufficient time for images to be captured, in order to complete the training process for Konie and the FDA staff, we went back into the forest after 15 days to download some of the data, and go through in the field camera trap maintenance, and subsequent data analysis.
Finding our way back to the cameras proved to be easier than we had dared to hope for, thanks to the forest skills of some of the FDA trackers, Bullah and Thomas. Team 2 canoed up river to download data from 7 cameras which mark the northern boundary of the trap grid, while the other team headed back into the forest to download from 11 more cameras in different forest areas.
As we nervously approached the first camera, we were amazed to see that it had taken 162 photos. My first thought was – false triggers – caused by the sun, or a branch waving in the wind. Three agonizing minutes later the download was complete, and we were delighted to see that the cameras had worked superbly well. We had 4 species on our first camera, just 15 days into the 35 day trapping period.
The next three days were spent moving between the cameras with some great successes, and as expected a few problems. A couple of the cameras had suffered from water damage, due to broken seals. Something to expect in the tropics; and we had had some really heavy periods of rain over the past 2 weeks. No pygmy hippos though, although we had continued to spot sign up to 3 km from the river into the park. We wondered how the river team had got on.
Team 2 – river team
The first camera we checked was the first camera that had been set out, meaning it had been in the field for a week longer than some of the others. We waited with baited breath as we downloaded the pictures, only to find a total of 9, all of which had been triggered by us when setting the camera up.
We were starting to wonder if we would get any pictures or if the disturbance we’d caused setting up the traps was too off putting for any wildlife. But at the second camera we were thrilled to see 82 pictures registered. We quickly scanned through excitedly waiting to see what we had captured. We had captured images of rodents a civet, and duiker.
We then paddled to our campsite, leaving one team member to set up camp as we went to check the final camera of the day. This was the furthest camera along the river, and it took us a while to locate as there seemed to be several paths cut. It was without too much anticipation we checked the counter, only to find 135 pictures registered. Suddenly the picture materialised taking the full screen showing the unmistakable back end of a pygmy hippo.
I think we all spoke at once. Thomas whooped with joy, and then we had a round of applause. We excitedly flicked through the pictures to discover the hippo had returned and it seemed had almost stopped to pose in front of the camera.
Not only that, but we had captured duikers, monkeys and white-breasted guinea-fowl, and a third appearance by a pygmy hippo. No one could stop smiling as we canoed back to camp.
First for Liberia
We believe these to be the first photographic records of wild pygmy hippos in Liberia, and perhaps the second ever globally (the only previous picture we can trace is from Sierra Leone, in 2006). It’s fantastic, but only the start. Our cameras remain in the field, and we only downloaded a subset of the cameras before we returned. Konie will bring you news of further photos over the coming weeks, and we will update you with news of other wildlife captured on the cameras in Sapo, and plans for the continuation of the project over the coming months.
Watch this space for more AMAZING footage on what walks past the hidden cameras in Sapo National Park, Liberia…….to be cont…