Nov
14
2007

Smile, you’re on animal camera: Project documents Appalachian wildlife

Get my good side: Bears are showing up much more frequently than expected in a wildlife photo project being conducted along the Appalachian Trail.
Get my good side: Bears are showing up much more frequently than expected in a wildlife photo project being conducted along the Appalachian Trail.Courtesy by grizzbass
Frolicking through the Appalachian Trail wilderness, wildlife for the past six months have been secretly having their photos snapped through a project coordinated through the Smithsonian Institution. And for the most part, the results have been pretty predictable, outside of a few embarrassing images.

Using 50 cameras attached to motion detectors, the project is set up to document wildlife patterns along the trail without the influence of humans being around. Once a month volunteers go to the cameras to collect the digital images and move the cameras to new locations.

Among the findings: deer, very unsurprisingly, have a glazed-over look when getting their picture taken; bear are curious and aggressive; wild horses are still running in the eastern wilderness.

Here's a link to some of the photos that have been captured of animals at night along the trail.

Since starting in the spring, the project has collected about 1,900 images of animals both at daytime and night. And researchers are already learning some things about the changing wildlife conditions in Appalachia. Bear populations are rebounding big time, with bear images being captured at 75 of the 273 camera locations used so far. Also, photos have been taken of species thought to be possibly extinct in the area: the long-tailed weasel, a variety of flying squirrels and bobcats. However, there are also concerns about one species that hasn’t shown up on photos yet: the eastern cougar.

How do these unsuspecting animals cooperate for the camera? It’s all in the nose. Project organizers knew they had to have a way to stop the animals in their tracks to get a photo. They concocted a blend of animal secretions called “the stink” to stop animals in their tracks. That aromatic blend is put on a stick near the camera area to entice the animals to stop for the camera.

To say that the photos are candid might be an understatement. Some mysterious black, fuzzy photos had researchers stumped for a while. Then they realized that bear were using the camera lens as a way to scratch their, um, posteriors.

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