2014 BBC Camera Trap Pictures of the Year Announced

BBC Camera Trap Competition Winner's Gallery

BBC Camera Trap Competition Winner’s Gallery

The results are in for BBC’s Camera Trap Photo of the Year Competition. I have entered some of my SLR camera trap pictures every year into this camera trap photography contest and this year the quality level of images has definitely stepped up in this competition. I think it was smart of them to separate the contest into a research and photography category as that allows for the lower resolution research pictures to shine on the same level as the SLR camera trap shots.

I’d like to first highlight that a good friend of mine, and an amazing biologist, Laila Bahaa-el-din, was commended in the Rare Species category with a beautiful picture of a red morph African Golden Cat. This stunning photograph perfectly fits in the rare species category since it is extremely difficult to get even a camera trap picture of this cat. After nine weeks trying to get a high resolution picture of this species, I was only able to photograph two individuals. Laila has hundreds of pictures and videos of this cat! You deserved this recognition, nice job Laila, I am really happy for you!

I had the honor of sharing an award in this same category of Rare Species with Laila, as the picture of the Marbled Cat got runner up (behind an Iranian Cheetah so, I mean, that’s a given first place!). This picture was a total team effort, to read more check out both of these past blog posts. (Borneo Bay Cat and Thank you for 2013).

Marbled Cat (Pardofelis marmorata marmorata) in lowland rainforest, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Rare Species Catergory Runner Up: Marbled Cat (Pardofelis marmorata marmorata) in lowland rainforest, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

The magazine’s editors always do a separate selection from the winners of the category, in their Editor’s Choice Gallery. This too is another great collection of images (I love the tiger coming out of the darkness), and I was again truly honored to have one of my images associated with such great pictures, photographers, and biologists. It is of a Malay Civet, captured as it is crossing over a buttress root in the dense rainforest of Malaysian Borneo (my friend Andy Hearn and I were trying to get a Sunda Clouded Leopard here, but we’ll take what we can get).

Malayan Civet (Viverra tangalunga) in lowland rainforest at night, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Malayan Civet (Viverra tangalunga) in lowland rainforest at night, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

There are a few things I am really excited about in regards to the results (I am of course happy that two entries placed, but that’s not important). One, is that the competition winners are filled with cats — in fact nine out of the 39 winning photographs depict one of our feline friends. Better yet, it highlights some of the least known and endangered species in the cat family. This contest allows a lot more people to be exposed to these amazing amazing animals, hopefully converting a few people out there into cat conservationists, or at the very least into more environmentally aware people (how can one not be excited about that?!?!).

I am so very glad BBC has started this competition and it is truly blooming into a great project that is not only entertaining, but also will drive environmental change.

 

Bornean Bay Cat

Screenshot of Bay Cat story of LIveScience

Screenshot of Bay Cat story on LiveScience

Some of you may have read the Live Science article about the Bay Cat photo that was published last week. If not, you can check it out here. I am really excited that the photograph was published by a media outlet with such a large readership. It even made the front page of yahoo!! Even more importantly, I am ecstatic because the Bay Cat is getting more attention. As an endangered feline it needs all the help it can get.

I do want to elaborate on the article — they have word limits, I do not :). I wanted to discuss the tremendous importance of working with the biologists studying this wild cat to make a photograph of this incredibly elusive feline.

But first some background…

As always before an assignment, I read as much about the Bay Cat before I went into the field. The research allows me to put myself in a better position to either encounter the animal or place the camera traps in the right locations.

As soon as I started reading about this cat, I knew that getting a photograph of it was going to be tough. There was so little known about it. In fact, by 2004 only 12 specimens had ever been found, and direct sightings (known to the outside world) could be counted on one hand. Nothing, besides educated guesses, is known about their predation, social organization, reproduction, and development.

And this isn’t even the case just on a global level, but even on Borneo, which the Bay Cat is endemic to (only found there). Less than 30 percent of people that live in the rainforest who were interviewed in a study could identify the Bay Cat.

The percentage of people able to name the species of Borneo's wild cat - Copyright and All Permission belong to Andrew Hearn

The percentage of people able to name the species of Borneo’s wild cat (Ross et al. 2010)

I left for Sabah, the most northern Malaysian state in Borneo, in February with high hopes and expectations (what can I say, being naive and optimistic is just the way I am). I would have five weeks to get the first ever high resolution picture of a wild Bay Cat. Luckily for me, I would not have to go at this endeavor alone, nor would I have ever had any chance of success without the help of Andrew Hearn and his team.

Andy is the expert on felids in Borneo. He knows everything there is to know about the five species of cats found on the island. In fact, most of the stuff I had read about the species was written by Andy. He has been doing his PhD research on the wild cats here for the last seven years and has seen all of them in person. Like I said, Andy is THE expert.

Bay Cat (Pardofelis badia) researcher Andrew Hearn checking camera trap, Kinabatangan River, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Bay Cat (Pardofelis badia) researcher Andrew Hearn checking camera trap, Kinabatangan River, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Andy had gotten one or two pictures of the Bay Cat in some of his previous research sites, but none of the cats ever showed up at the same camera set twice. There seemed to be no predictable behavior for this animal. Not a good thing when you only have four digital SLR camera traps and a huge rainforest to put them in. Then, the luck seemed to change our way, at Andy’s latest research site he had gotten four pictures of the same cat at the same camera location. We knew where we had to place our cameras.

Two of them went right along the cats travel path, another 60 feet down the trail and another near a nice buttress root — I figured we may as well go for a pretty picture 🙂

After three weeks we checked the cameras. Besides finding the cameras covered with mold (due to the extreme humidity) there were no cats on the cameras. A very disappointing start, but at least we had gotten a few pictures of the Malay Civet (Viverra tangalunga).

Malayan Civet (Viverra tangalunga) in lowland rainforest at night, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Malayan Civet (Viverra tangalunga) in lowland rainforest at night, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

My confidence diminished, my optimism grew slim. A nice punch in the face came when Andy pulled the pictures of this research cameras, next to my SLR camera traps, showing how the Bay Cat had used a different trail this time walking right by my set-up, but also avoiding the camera further down the trail.

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I could hear myself saying “If it was easy, everyone would be doing it”. This wasn’t the time to give up. We had the cameras in great locations, we just had to hope the cat would return before I had to leave.

Five weeks had almost passed and I was leaving in a few days. We hiked up the hill to check and pack up the cameras. Still, no Bay Cat, but at least we were able to get photographs of both the Marbled Cat and Sunda Clouded Leopard.

Marbled Cat (Pardofelis marmorata marmorata) in lowland rainforest, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Marbled Cat (Pardofelis marmorata marmorata) in lowland rainforest, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Bornean Clouded Leopard (Neofelis diardi borneensis) male in lowland rainforest at night, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Bornean Clouded Leopard (Neofelis diardi borneensis) male in lowland rainforest at night, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

I returned home excited for having pictures of these species but also disappointed for not having gotten a picture of the Bay Cat. I felt like the ship had sailed on that opportunity. Little did I know that I would return to Borneo to work with Andy once again a few months later. Returning in November we once again placed the cameras in or near areas where Andy had gotten a Bay Cat photograph before using his research trail cameras. This had to be the time, it just had to.

Again things proved difficult. The rain was unrelenting making set-up quit difficult. “Just got to get on with it” is something Andy would always say when he encountered a difficult situation and I admire that about him, but it is also something I have tried taking to heart for myself. Even with the rains, difficult terrain, fire ants, leeches, horse flies, we just had to get on with it. Finally, after six days, all the cameras were in place.

Then, Andy and Gilmore Bolongon (Andy’s former research assistant and now a masters student) had to return to their principal research location on the Kinabatanagan River. I would meet up with them in ten days, right after doing the first camera check.

Arriving at the first camera after an exhausting first part of the hike I was hopeful, yet cautious. Scrolling through the pictures, reality struck, no Bay Cat picture.

Two more cameras await three more miles up the mountain. Not knowing what pictures await me up there is both a driving force, and a barrier. It would almost be easier not knowing if there was a Bay Cat picture, then knowing for sure that there were none. I am way too curious of a person not to know, so I kept hiking.

I arrived at the second camera, only feet from the third camera. Again, no Bay Cat picture.

The third camera didn’t hold much promise due to its proximity with the unsuccessful second camera trap. It was located on a very faint game trail off of the main trail. My hopes were low. The scream I let out once I saw what was on the camera must have scared all the animals away in a two mile radius. If that didn’t do it, the dance I did after that would have. I was exhilarated. As soon as I could, I let Andy and Gil know. This Bay Cat picture exists because of the teamwork between all three of us.

Bay Cat (Pardofelis badia) gray morph male in lowland rainforest, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Bay Cat (Pardofelis badia) gray morph male in lowland rainforest, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Andy has eighty camera set-ups in this research site (160 in total, but there are always two per site to get both sides of the animal). Without them we would have had no clue where a good spot would have been to get the high-resolution picture. Even more importantly, with all of Andy’s research there will finally be some light shed on the biology of the wild cats here.

His research is looking at population size, density, habitat preference, habitat use, and prey base. With this information, it will be possible to draw up a conservation plan to protect this endangered species, as well as the other felids on Borneo. You can read more about his incredibly important (and fascinating might I say!!!) research here: http://borneanwildcat.blogspot.com/

Panthera, the world’s leading cat conservation organization, is partially funding Andy’s research. By donating to them you are directly helping them implement steps into conserving our wild feline friends. If you have a chance visit their webpage.

 

References:

Hearn, A., Sanderson, J., Ross, J., Wilting, A. & Sunarto, S. 2008b. Pardofelis badia. In: IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.1. <www.iucnredlist.org>.
Ross et al 2010. Framework for Bornean wild cat action plan
Sunquist, M., Sunquist, F. 2002. Wild cats of the World, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 48–51

 

African Leopards in Gabon

Getting a picture of African Leopards in Gabon is not the same as anywhere else on the African continent. Unlike South Africa or Kenya, in Gabon you can’t sit in a safari vehicle and hope it emerges from the brush. This is the rainforest. Think super dense seven foot understory plants that make it impossible to see anything, times ten. Finding a leopard is nearly impossible. The biologists studying these cats deal with it on a daily basis. Phillip Henschel and Laila Bahaa-el-din brave, and I mean brave (to be explained soon) these challenges.

Does this look dense enough?

Tropical rainforest, Lope National Park, Gabon

Tropical rainforest, Lope National Park, Gabon

How about now?

Tropical rainforest, Lope National Park, Gabon

Tropical rainforest, Lope National Park, Gabon

We are in Lope National Park in Gabon where Laila has been conducting her research for the past three months. Phil was nice enough to pick me up from the airport and bring me here along with all of the equipment. Being in their company makes me feel confident that we will get a picture of the big cat, these two know what they are talking about.

On the first evening, we do a quick drive around in the savanna habitat bordering the rainforest. This isn’t Phil or Laila’s first time to the rodeo and it doesn’t take long before they spot Leopard tracks along the road.

African Leopard (Panthera pardus) tracks on dirt road next to tire marks, Lope National Park, Gabon

African Leopard (Panthera pardus) tracks on dirt road next to tire marks, Lope National Park, Gabon

My confidence grows, later that night they show me video footage they got with trail cameras that show leopards along river banks. Even more reason to think that this may be possible.

The next day, we load up the backpacks with two digital SLR camera traps and head into the forest. The first sign that this wasn’t going to be easy was when we stopped at the forest edge to listen for African Forest Elephants. If these guys see, smell, or feel you (through vibrations in the ground), make sure you have your running shoes on — they will charge you. They are not the bluff charging kind either; instead they are the full barreling through the rainforest until you are way gone or beneath their feet kind. An encouraging thought. While we take our first steps I wonder how Phil and Laila are staying so calm with this constant threat looming, but somehow they continue on.

We first check one of Laila’s camera traps, deployed along a path.

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No cats came up on the computer screen. It’s time to move on. We drop into a creek bed. After walking for a bit we notice a ton of leopard prints in the soft sand. A very good sign. We had previously decided to put the camera on a log spanning across the river (due to the cats wanting to avoid the water if at all possible) so we start looking for a suitable log. After a few hundred meters we find the perfect one. Not only are there foot prints all around it, there are scratch marks on it. Phil, also a master tracker, assures me its a leopard marking site.

This means it’s quite likely for the animal to return to this exact spot, so we don’t waste any time and set up the first camera. Another hundred meters and we find another log, this one with some leopard scat on it (which Phil immediately smells, measures, and photographs….crazy Phil), and we place the second camera on that bridge.

African Leopard (Panthera pardus pardus) biologist Phillip Henschel measuring leopard scat diameter, Lope National Park, Gabon

African Leopard (Panthera pardus pardus) biologist Phillip Henschel measuring leopard scat diameter, Lope National Park, Gabon

In the next two days we place cameras along trails that have had leopards come by in the past (based on Laila’s camera trapping efforts). I was already dreaming of cat pictures galore.

Reality hit when we checked four of the cameras after ten days. No cats on any of them, instead other mammals visited (some of them making us people seem frighteningly very very small).

Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) mother and baby in tropical rainforest, Lope National Park, Gabon

Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) mother and baby in tropical rainforest, Lope National Park, Gabon

Ogilby's Duiker (Cephalophus ogilbyi) in tropical rainforest, Lope National Park, Gabon

Ogilby’s Duiker (Cephalophus ogilbyi) in tropical rainforest, Lope National Park, Gabon

Black-legged Mongoose (Bdeogale nigripes) crossing over log bridge at night, Lope National Park, Gabon

Black-legged Mongoose (Bdeogale nigripes) crossing over log bridge at night, Lope National Park, Gabon

African Forest Elephant (Loxodonta africana cyclotis) bull in tropical rainforest, Lope National Park, Gabon

African Forest Elephant (Loxodonta africana cyclotis) bull in tropical rainforest, Lope National Park, Gabon

There were only three weeks left, I was starting to get really nervous about whether or not we would get a feline on one of the cameras. It was time to check the two log cameras, we get to the first camera and bam!!! Right off the bat there is a leopard picture, then another, and another.

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African Leopard (Panthera pardus) male crossing log bridge over river at night, Lope National Park, Gabon

African Leopard (Panthera pardus) male crossing log bridge over river at night, Lope National Park, Gabon

There are a couple of interesting things to note about the leopards in these pictures. One you can clearly see the size difference between the female and the male. Two, their eyes are not cloudy due to the flashes (which I always position so that the eyes look good), instead the clouding of the cornea, also called keratopathy, which leads to partial blindness is caused by Fire Ants that have stung the leopards in the eyes (which must be incredibly painful, if you have ever felt a fire ant bite). Luckily, both leopards look to be in good physical condition, apparently not completely hampered by their partially lost vision.

On to the second bridge. Another leopard photo, one that made me back away from the camera as I was reviewing the images. The leopard seemed to be coming right out of the camera.

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The picture has a weird look to it, the leopard almost doesn’t look real due to the cloudy eyes. In my opinion, as the leopard is also covered with engorged ticks, it exemplifies what a tough world these guys live in. Constantly having to deal with ectoparasites just can’t be fun. I don’t even want to imagine the parasites within their bodies.

After seeing the pictures, I was of course elated, jumping up and down, and simply being extremely excited. I could not have asked for more, or so I thought, until this image showed up two weeks later:

African Leopard (Panthera pardus) male crossing log bridge over river in tropical rainforest, Lope National Park, Gabon

African Leopard (Panthera pardus pardus) male crossing log bridge over river in tropical rainforest, Lope National Park, Gabon

It’s one of my favorite camera trap images because of the lighting, composition, the habitat, and the way the tail swirls around.

A picture like this is not just a set it up and get it kind of situation. Instead it is a culmination of a lot of factors. Building and getting the cameras into a country takes a lot of time, coordination, patience, bureaucratic paperwork, persistence, and sometimes just luck. Then comes the ecological research on the species. How does the animal move about its habitat? How many individuals occupy a certain area? Will more than one cat use the same path? What direction is the cat most likely to move in? I read everything and anything I can about a species before I try and photograph it.

Most importantly, only through extensive field experience by the researchers can these questions be answered. After figuring out the location for the camera, it’s time to decide on the exposure for the camera, and where and how to set the flashes. It’s not easy by any means, but every time I get a picture like the one above, I know it’s worth it.

These pictures were only possible due to Laila and Phil. Thank you guys, it was a true pleasure working together! Being able to call you my friends is something I cherish and I look forward to seeing both soon!

Reviewing the 2013 Photographic Year

I always like to take a bit of time and review what happened the last year in terms of reaching some of my goals. For that I go and check my trusty Bucket List and see what things I was able to experience (or check off, for you twitchers). Turns out 2013 was a good photographic year.

I am including only the highlights from this year in this post (for the full list just click the link above). I am also only showing one or two images of each species/location, if you want to see all the pictures from that subject just click that name and the link will take you to the appropriate gallery.

Visit and or Explore
Tropical Rainforests (Borneo Spring 2013, Gabon 2013, Borneo Winter 2013)

Lowland rainforest shrouded in clouds at sunrise, Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Lowland rainforest shrouded in clouds at sunrise, Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Sunset over tropical rainforest, Lope National Park, Gabon

Sunset over tropical rainforest, Lope National Park, Gabon

New Zealand (August 2013)

Snow-covered mountains, South Island, New Zealand

Snow-covered mountains, South Island, New Zealand

Photograph
Bay Cat (December 2013) – More on that later 🙂
Sunda Clouded Leopard (March 2013)

IMG_93062_Sunda_Clouded_Leopard_Malaysia_Sebastian_Kennerknecht

Sunda Clouded Leopard (Neofelis diardi) male in lowland rainforest at night, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia (camera trap)

Marbled Cat (March 2013)

Marbled Cat (Pardofelis marmorata marmorata) in lowland rainforest, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Marbled Cat (Pardofelis marmorata marmorata) in lowland rainforest, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia (camera trap)

African Leopard (October 2013)

African Leopard (Panthera pardus) male crossing log bridge over river in tropical rainforest, Lope National Park, Gabon

African Leopard (Panthera pardus) male crossing log bridge over river in tropical rainforest, Lope National Park, Gabon (camera trap)

3 species of Civet (Added Malay Civet and Common Palm Civet 2013)

IMG_106378_Malay_Civet_Malaysia_Sebastian_Kennerknecht

Malayan Civet (Viverra tangalunga) in lowland rainforest at night, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia (camera trap)

Common Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) in tree at night, Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Common Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) in tree at night, Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

1000 bird species in the wild (I am at 190, having added 61 species this year), just a few here:

Buller's Albatross (Thalassarche bulleri) on water, Kaikoura, South Island, New Zealand

Buller’s Albatross (Thalassarche bulleri) on water, Kaikoura, South Island, New Zealand

Red-billed Gull (Larus scopulinus) during rain storm, Kaikoura, South Island, New Zealand

Red-billed Gull (Larus scopulinus) during rain storm, Kaikoura, South Island, New Zealand

New Zealand Kaka (Nestor meridionalis) parrot during rain storm, North Island, New Zealand

New Zealand Kaka (Nestor meridionalis) parrot during rain storm, North Island, New Zealand

Northern Giant Petrel (Macronectes halli) pair fighting, Kaikoura, South Island, New Zealand

Northern Giant Petrel (Macronectes halli) pair fighting, Kaikoura, South Island, New Zealand

300 mammal species in the wild (I am at 106, having added 45 species this year), just a few here:

Forest Buffalo (Syncerus caffer nanus) bull running, Lope National Park, Gabon

Forest Buffalo (Syncerus caffer nanus) bull running, Lope National Park, Gabon

White-nosed Guenon (Cercopithecus nictitans) in tree, Lope National Park, Gabon

White-nosed Guenon (Cercopithecus nictitans) in tree, Lope National Park, Gabon

African Brush-tailed Porcupine (Atherurus africanus) on log at night, Lope National Park, Gabon

African Brush-tailed Porcupine (Atherurus africanus) on log at night, Lope National Park, Gabon (camera trap)

Red River Hog (Potamochoerus porcus) male, Lope National Park, Gabon

Red River Hog (Potamochoerus porcus) male, Lope National Park, Gabon

Red Leaf Monkey (Presbytis rubicunda) in tree, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borne

Red Leaf Monkey (Presbytis rubicunda) in tree, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borne

20 critically endangered and 50 endangered species (I am at 6 and 17 respectively)

Borneo Pygmy Elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis) females and calf grazing, Kinabatangan River, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Borneo Pygmy Elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis) females and calf grazing, Kinabatangan River, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Takahe (Porphyrio hochstetteri) grazing, Kapiti Island, North Island, New Zealand

Takahe (Porphyrio hochstetteri) grazing, Kapiti Island, North Island, New Zealand

I am looking forward to see what this year brings!

How about you, anything particular that you photographed in 2013 that you are really happy/proud of?

Free Nature Wallpaper for Download – African Forest Elephant

Here is October’s free desktop wallpaper! It’s another wildlife image from the jungles of Gabon. This is a dslr camera trap image of an African Forest Elephant. The debate whether this is a separate subspecies or even its own species still continues to this day, but these elephants are definitely smaller than their savanna cousins. Thankfully poaching is not a big threat in Lope National Park and elephant densities may be the highest in this part of the country. They have had hunting pressure in the past though and since these elephants live a long time, many older individuals still have bullets in their skin and have understandably developed a severe disliking of humans. Now, when you walk through the rainforest your biggest fear is running into one of these guys. They will charge you instead of running away, and most of the time they are not bluff charges. It’s scary as hell. I am very glad I wasn’t anywhere near the camera when this guy walked past, taking his self portrait while stepping into a puddle of water.

As always, just click on the image for the wallpaper sized image or use this link African Forest Elephant Stepping into Puddle.

African Forest Elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) stepping into puddle at night, Lope National Park, Gabon

African Forest Elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) stepping into puddle at night, Lope National Park, Gabon