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Wild animal at Brandywine Zoo
UD’s Jennifer and Kyle McCarthy used enclosures - and animals such as the serval seen here - at the Brandywine Zoo to test camera heights and baits in order to determine how to best set up their cameras for a study in Panama.

Jaguarundi in focus

Photo by Courtesy of Jennifer McCarthy

UD professors team with Brandywine Zoo to test cameras for wildlife population study

When conducting research in remote areas to get population estimates on elusive animals, it’s important to make sure that the camera traps which will capture images of those animals are set up properly. Once the camera traps are placed, they can’t be adjusted and the only time they’ll be looked at again is when they’re picked up at the end of the study.

Thanks to the Brandywine Zoo, University of Delaware researcher Jennifer McCarthy was able to test various camera heights, distances, settings and bait and scent stations to see how to best set up her cameras for an upcoming research project looking at the elusive jaguarundi cat in Panama’s Mamoni Valley.

The research is being done in partnership with the Mamoni Valley Preserve and Kaminando, a wildlife conservation organization.

McCarthy, an affiliated faculty member in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), said that her group will use the pictures to try and identify a few individuals through specific markings—such as scars or ear notches.

Jennifer McCarthy attaches a camera to a tree. McCarthy and other researchers will return to Panama to collect 34 cameras they placed in June, hoping to catch images of the jaguarundi.

Unlike jaguars, which can be identified using spot patterns, the jaguarundi are all one color and it is harder to identify individuals so having good photos is critical for the researchers.

“We’re trying to get good pictures of their faces and their bodies but we don’t get a lot of time to practice and play with different distances when we’re out in the field,” said McCarthy. “The Brandywine Zoo was incredible because I called and said ‘We’re trying to put these cameras out in Panama, is there any way we could practice on your cats?’ and they said, ‘Yes, that’d be great.’ They were wonderful.”

This study will be one of the first to measure the population density of jaguarundi which are found throughout Central and South America.

“They’re thought to be really common because people see them relatively often but there’s never been a study on them,” McCarthy said. “All the information we have comes from photos that have been obtained during other studies and people have kind of ignored them thinking that they’re pretty common. We have a hunch that we see them because they’re a diurnal species, which means they’re active during the day, so they might not be as numerous as we think.”

McCarthy, who is working on the project with Kyle McCarthy, assistant professor of wildlife ecology, and Jeffrey Conner Maxwell, a senior in CANR, said that they set up two cameras each in three different enclosures of three different animals — the bobcat enclosure, the serval enclosure and the capybara enclosure — and put baits at different distances.

“We measured different distances from the cameras and we were able to see, ‘Ok, if we set our camera this far from the trail, we’re getting really good pictures and if we set our camera at this height, we’re able to get good face photos,’” said McCarthy.

Over the three-day period, they were able to capture almost 4,000 photos which gave them an idea of how to set up their cameras when they ventured to Panama.

The researchers set up 34 cameras in Panama in June and are going to pick them up in October.

Because of the remoteness of their location, McCarthy stressed that it is of the utmost importance to make sure they’re set up properly the first time.

“We can’t go back and check them so we want to make sure we do everything right the first time and the Brandywine Zoo was great in helping us to hopefully do that,” said McCarthy.

The researchers were also able to try out different lures and scents—such as Calvin Klein’s Obsession perfume—that will hopefully get the cats in front of the cameras out in the wild.

“We have used Obsession before in the field but at the Brandywine Zoo, we tried some different scents,” said McCarthy who explained that there have been studies that looked at different perfumes at other zoos.

“Jaguars are really attracted to Obsession and Chanel No. 5,” said McCarthy. “I always think we’re out in the jungle for three or four days and it’s pretty rough but we always smell really, really good.”

McCarthy stressed that it was great to have the Brandywine Zoo as a partner on the project and that zoos often play an important, behind the scenes role in conservation projects.

“This is a way that we get to work with wild animals and we get a lot of data that would take us years to collect in the field,” said McCarthy. “This will really help us with animals in the wild. It’s a great partnership and they were great to work with.”

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