Wildlife researcher captures jaguars with camera

Blacksburg, Va., Nov. 22, 2002 - Have you ever wondered how wildlife photographers are able to catch that indescribable image of a wild animal swiftly and methodically attacking prey with just its claws? Marcella Kelly, assistant wildlife professor in Virginia Tech's College of Natural Resources, does just that for jaguars of the Chiquibul Forest Reserve at Las Cuevas Research Station in Belize, Central America.

The name "jaguar" comes from the Tupi-Guarani Indians of Amazonia, whose word "yaguara" means "a beast that kills its prey with one bound." Kelly uses infrared remotely triggered cameras to photograph jaguars. Because jaguars have distinct coat patterns, individuals can be identified from photographs and a "capture" history established for each animal. This project will produce the first density estimates of jaguars in tropical rainforests.

Kelly's research involves using new technology to collect much needed data on elusive, endangered species. Each day, Kelly's research team sets out through the rainforest of Belize to cut trails and establish camera stations in the dense jungle. It is better if the stations are under complete tree canopy cover because the slightest motion or heat disturbance can activate a camera. "With all of the wires and placement requirements (e.g. clearing the site), it takes over an hour to set each one up," says Kelly.

"The jaguars seem to show curiosity towards the camera's flash," notes Kelly. Researchers place a pair of cameras every three square kilometers in order to keep track of the jaguars. The cameras are checked once every 10 days. "We found that most of the same jaguars come back to have more pictures taken of them," explains Kelly. "The real problems come from the opossums. We have pictures of them taking pictures of each other or taking the wires out of the cameras," says Kelly. "It could be worse," laughs Kelly, "Elephants tend to step on the cameras and squash them in the African researc

Contact: Marcella Kelly
Virginia Tech

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