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While you might imagine that a camera trap is some sort of bizarre contraption which is designed to capture errant cameras, a camera trap is in fact a camera which is used to photograph wildlife in situ. Camera traps are used to photograph vulnerable wildlife without disturbing them, and they can also be used to capture shy or nocturnal animals on film. Many conservation organizations use camera traps in their work, and some publish the most interesting images so that the general public can take a look.
A basic camera trap is very simple. It consists of a camera mounted at an appropriate height and attached to an infrared sensor which activates the camera when it senses an animal passing by. This means, of course, that the camera goes off any time a wild animal passes, and in especially hot climates, a camera trap may malfunction on occasion, photographing random landscapes in response to sudden temperature fluctuations. As a result, going through the images in a camera trap can be rather boring at times.
Setting up a camera trap requires a lot of groundwork. Conservationists do not want to waste their resources, so they monitor animal populations carefully to look for a high traffic area for a camera trap, and they are very careful when installing the camera so that they do not arouse suspicion. After a set period of time, they hike into the area to retrieve the camera and move it. Most camera traps do not beam images to a satellite, so scientists have no idea of what might be on the camera until they pick it up.
Moving camera traps is important, as the flashes can startle or upset nocturnal animals, causing them to relocate. In addition to being a potential threat to the well-being of the animals being photographed, relocating would also prevent researchers from studying the animals with the camera trap. As a result, it is critically important to retrieve cameras. Frequently, the camera requires service as well, to get rid of dirt, mold, dust, and other detritus which might impede the function of the camera.
A camera trap can be used to monitor an endangered population of animals, and it can also be used to keep track of wildlife in areas where people often have conflicts with wild animals. For example, many state parks in the United States use camera traps to keep an eye on the bear population, looking specifically for repeat offenders who put themselves or human visitors in danger.
@Melonlity -- Ah, but that's the point, isn't it? Some animals are simply too jumpy to photographed by live photographers.
I understand what you are saying about the value of using skilled photographers, so how about a compromise? A remote controlled camera that can be controlled by a photographer from a location far removed from animals. You have the advantages of both a skilled photographer and a still, silent device that won't spook animals.
I understand how these are useful, but a live photographer who knows what he or she is doing can never be replaced by a camera trap. Think about it. That live photographer can protect equipment for damage, can use his or her skills to make sure photos are in focus, only bother with shooting photos that will turn out well, etc.
While it is true some animals are shy and stay away from humans, good wildlife photographers have been grabbing great photos of critters for years. Patience can go a long way when it comes to taking photos of jumpy animals, right?
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