40m high treetop camera traps capture rare Amazonian rainforest wildlife

Published: 20 February 2016

Camera traps, set high in the Peruvian rainforest, have captured incredible canopy footage of rare and secretive animals living in the Amazon.

Camera traps, set high in the Peruvian rainforest, have captured incredible canopy footage of rare and secretive animals living in the Amazon.

Species caught on camera included the endangered Peruvian woolly monkey, the hunted and endangered black-faced spider monkey, the elusive margay (a small tree-dwelling cat) and one of the world’s largest birds of prey, the majestic but threatened harpy eagle. They were all captured by a project led by University of Glasgow researcher Andrew Whitworth in collaboration with the Crees Foundation.

A total of 120 cameras were used – the largest arboreal camera trapping study in the world – to collect the footage, with 40 cameras on the ground and 80 high up in the rainforest canopy.

The tree top cameras were put in place by hand by the team which included researchers from the Peruvian-based NGO, the Crees Foundation and The University of Glasgow.

Andrew Whitworth discusses the project    

The researchers scaled heights of between 30 and 40m to put each of the 80 arboreal cameras in place. The cameras were all situated within the Manu Biosphere Reserve, one of the world’s most biodiverse and important conservation areas and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, designated to protect the globally important Amazon rainforest and its biodiversity.

Cameras were distributed across four key study locations: two strictly protected from hunting and logging activities (The Manu Learning Centre and Romero Rainforest Lodge) and two native community sites, in both of which selective logging and subsistence hunting are common practice (Shintuya and Diamante).

Camera footage        

Andy Whitworth said: “Although the majority of biodiversity is thought to exist within the canopy and not on the ground, researchers have barely begun to unfold the complexities of three dimensional tropical forest ecosystems.

“Taking the cameras into the trees allows us to make rapid inventories and begin to ask questions about how different land uses practises (such as selective logging or subsistence hunting) influence arboreal biodiversity. Ultimately this work will provide us with a much more complete understanding of the human impacts on wildlife in a globally important conservation area, the Manu Biosphere Reserve.”

The amazing Harpy Eagle          

Some of the most exciting footage captured by the study included rare video images of threatened predatory bird, the harpy eagle. The harpy eagle reached over a meter in height, with a wing span of up to two meters, and feeds on large primates and other large arboreal mammals, including sloths. At least two individuals were filmed; an adult and sub-adult, and both were recorded in the hunted native community sites.

Head of Manu National Park, Jhon Flores, said: “The videos of the harpy eagle are simply spectacular. To capture footage of different individuals, across different sites, of such an emblematic bird is special for Manu, and is a great attraction to people who wish to visit Manu and witness its unbelievable wildlife first hand."

Monkeys captured from high within the canopy      

Andy added: “It has taken three years of hard work to get this project to where it is today. The information collected will contribute essential biodiversity data to Manu National Park and to the Sustainable Manu Project, a collaboration between Crees and The University of Glasgow, supported by a Darwin Initiative grant. The project involves the collection of information about species of key conservation concern, such as harpy eagle, spider monkey, white-lipped peccary and jaguar, all species detected on our cameras.”

Media Enquiries: ali.howard@glasgow.ac.uk or elizabeth.mcmeekin@glasgow.ac.uk / 0141 330 6557 or 0141 330 4831

First published: 20 February 2016