JWM: Camera traps help catch crop raiders and assess losses

By Julia John

An agouti scurries within view of a camera trap. ©Mark Abrahams

In the sustainable-use reserves of Juruá, Brazil, communities can legally obtain fruits, nuts, fish and meat from the protected rainforest, but they chiefly subsist on cultivated cassava, a crop susceptible to hungry forest animals. Through camera traps and interviews, scientists found locals suffer destroyed crops, diverted time and limited crop choice from species raiding their farms.

“Juruá reserves are in place to protect people’s livelihoods as well as biodiversity,” said Mark Abrahams, lead author on the study published in the Journal of Wildlife Management. “We wanted to quantify the degree of crop loss in terms of people’s livelihoods.”

Then a University of East Anglia doctoral candidate, Abrahams and his partners gathered 60,000 camera trap shots in the jungle and talked to 175 households in over 40 Juruá communities from 2013 to 2015.

On average, Abrahams said, residents complained of losing over 7 percent of their crop each year to animals including agoutis (Dasyprocta fuliginosa), collared peccaries (Pecari tajacu), pacas (Cuniculus paca) and red brocket deer (Mazama americana). That forced them to invest time in watching for crop raiders, hunting problem wildlife and installing nets and scarecrows, he said, but without such precautions, their losses could be 10 times greater.

Despite this damage, the conflicts seemed less pronounced than in areas of Africa and Asia where wildlife can create issues for farmers, Abrahams said. “Crop losses were high, but we weren’t seeing acrimonious conflict,” he said.

Juruá villagers eased the agricultural blow by killing and eating some of the unwelcome wildlife, which aren’t imperiled like elephants and can be lawfully taken on their lands, Abrahams said.

“These communities are competent judges of their own livelihoods and do what they feel they need to do to reduce crop raiding,” he said. “Conservationists should think about working with these communities, looking at which species are harvest-sensitive and need protection.”

The results fall in line with past work evaluating extents of crop loss and the species responsible, Abrahams said.

“Burdens come with living in these biodiverse ecosystems,” he said. “The global community gains enormously from having areas like Juruá with their forests and faunas intact. This research shows that sometimes, the costs of protection accrue locally.”

A collared peccary poses for a selfie in front of a camera trap. ©Mark Abrahams

A camera trap waits for crop raiders in the woods. ©Mark Abrahams

A red brocket deer gazes at the camera. ©Mark Abrahams

A paca gets caught on camera in the dark. ©Mark Abrahams

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Julia John is a science writer at The Wildlife Society. Contact her at jjohn@wildlife.org with any questions or comments about her article.

Read more of Julia's articles here.