Behavioural change observation with camera traps
Location: Miskolc – Hungary,
Story by: Zsófia Szabó
PhD student Zsófia Szabó is investigating the relationship between grey wolves and their prey in the Bükk Plateau, using camera traps set up by the Bükk National Park Directorate. Her aim is to prove or disprove the observations on the return of the wolf and the behavioural change of game using scientific methods.
Being an apex predator, the grey wolf has always been a rival for man in hunting and, therefore, often considered as a pest. Its bad reputation had been based on several rumours, legends and misinformation. By now, many disbeliefs have been dispelled by science and the wolf is one of the most studied species in the world. However, the more we learn about them the more we realise how less we know about them. Thanks to the conservation efforts and the improvement in the quality of habitats, wolves are repopulating the continent – reviving conflicts of the past. Each habitat has its own characteristics, which is reflected by human land use. Therefore, it is important to perform studies about wolves in the specified area and not only rely on the research results of other countries. The largest contiguous forest of Hungary is located in the Bükk Mountains which provide an ideal habitat for the returning large carnivores. Since the grey wolf reappeared in Hungary, hunters, who are not accustomed to the competition, have discovered many changes in the behaviour of game which they admit making hunting more difficult. At the same time, the relationship of the grey wolf and its prey animals has never been investigated in Hungary. The Bükk National Park Directorate have installed camera traps in its administrative area in order to monitor grey wolves. Using these video records, Zsófia Szabó, who is a doctoral student at the University of Debrecen, aims to reveal the impact of the presence of grey wolves on the different species of game animals.
However, the study cannot completely be made free from a high-level human disturbance since the Bükk Plateau is richly covered with roads and is considered a popular tourist spot and mushrooming area. Several studies show that game animals respond to human presence the same way they do to wolves. Thus, the behaviour of game is affected not only by the activity of wolves but human activities as well.
“Camera trap records are perfectly suitable for this purpose because they can observe the movement of wild animals in a particular habitat over a long period of time.” – explains Zsófia.
Camera traps monitor a particular habitat over a long period of time. By analysing the records, we can seek answer for questions like how different organisms avoid each other spatially and temporarily. These observations assume that game species do not need to leave their habitats, i.e. „vanish from the forest” to avoid an encounter with wolves. Instead, they should be active when wolves are less active and visit places where they know there are no wolves around. The latter may mean that game species move more frequently and do not spend lengthy period of time in the same spot, which is consistent with the hunters’ observations. According to the observations of other countries, this phenomenon can have a positive effect on habitats and forest regeneration: regarding the fact that they spend less time in the area, game will feed less intensively in the regrowth. Human disturbance – which is of a larger scale that of the wolf – is also apparent. In fact, the effects of the wolf’s presence may be completely suppressed by the significant human disturbance.
Monitoring with camera traps
Monitoring with camera traps is used in all parts of the world to detect animal species and individuals living in a certain area. Depending on the species, the camera traps enable viable data about the presence of certain species as well as their behaviour and reproduction cycles to be collected. The cameras are powered by batteries and the pictures need to be downloaded regularly. They are usually installed in a fixed location and triggered by motion and/or heat sensors when animals pass. For species such as the lynx, which can be clearly identified by their individual fur pattern, and which are territorial, the camera traps can also be used to count the number of individuals and observe the development of the population.
Science has proven to us countless times how harmful rumours and beliefs can be. However, the experience and observations of people living together with the forest cannot be ignored.
In order to prevent overreactions, it is important to conduct studies and make their results available for everyone. This can help identify the real causes of problems and find solution to them.”