Trying to get cameras in the wild to capture images of the elusive pygmy hippo (Choeropsis liberiensis) is no easy task, but the project in Sapo National Park, Liberia, is trying and constantly inching a little bit closer to success. In 2010 they set up 25 camera traps in the wild yet only 8 survived the surveys, the rest were broken. But our guys in the field don’t give up easily. For 2011, twenty five new generation cameras were bought with better battery life and better features, which meant less camera errors and a better chance at getting some great shots. The project also collected all existing and new information of pygmy hippo recordings for the national park, and combined them into a GIS database to support the camera trapping and other conservation efforts.
With the new equipment they launched the 2011 season with lots of hope. From the 6th of June to the 21rst of July 2011 a camera grid with 32 infrared triggered cameras was set out in Sapo National Park totalling 1,204 trapping days. Not surprisingly, there is a lot of data to analyze which will take a while longer to process; but for now, it looks like no pygmy hippopotamus shots. Despite the probable lack of direct images of pygmy hippo, during the camera setup the team found several pygmy hippo traces and dung. On one of the days they were taking down the cameras they even encountered two pygmy hippos! With evidence of the elusive animals in the area, it is only a matter of time.
To help them maximise the chances of getting more information on this endangered species the team also carried out additional surveys at “special pygmy hippo spots.” They selected these during the pre survey assessment at the beginning of August along the Sinoe River, the largest in the park. They selected sites that were close to waterways, had plants the species feeds on, and where they found trails or dung from pygmy hippos. Using these criteria they found two suitable spots and set up 10 cameras in late August: seven in video mode and three in photo mode. For this second line of surveys the cameras were not placed following a systematic grid design, but especially installed at places showing signs of Pygmy Hippo, in order to increase the probability to catch them on camera.
The story so far… One camera from the initial survey was destroyed by elephants. The team have provided training on camera trapping techniques for two Forestry Development Authority (FDA) staff in Liberia. Using systematic camera trapping monitoring the team has obtained evidence of some of the incredible biodiversity present in this area: sooty mangabey, giant pangolin, tree pangolin, forest elephant, water chevrotain, leopard, zebra duiker, and Jentink’s duiker, and chimpanzees to name a few. Keep your fingers crossed for wild pygmy hippos caught on camera in Liberia as the field team continues processing the pictures and sets up a second round of surveying at a second location.
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