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What is a Trunk-Cam?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 26 October 2016
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A trunk-cam is a camera which is designed to be carried by an elephant. While elephant cinematographers might seem a bit ludicrous, trunk-cams can actually provide fascinating insights into the regions where elephants live, as these large animals can boldly enter territory humans cannot reach. There are a number of different styles of trunk-cam, designed to be used in different ways, and trunk-cam footage has attracted global attention on occasion, by capturing events and scenes previously unviewed by human eyes.

The inspiration for trunk-cams came from working elephants, which were used to carry firewood and other supplies to jungle camps used by biologists as base stations for research. Researchers noted that the elephants carried firewood extremely gently, and realized that the slow, steady pace of an elephant might work much like a Steadicam in the jungle. So, they devised a camera hidden inside a log which could be carried by an elephant.

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A basic lightweight trunk-cam can be picked up and carried by an elephant across long distances, and it may run continuously, or be triggered to react to motion in the camera's line of sight. Other trunk-cams are heavier, so the elephants carry them for a short period of time and then drop them, deploying hidden cameras into the jungle. Elephants may also be taught to drop off a trunk-cam when they spot a tiger or another creature of interest, and in some cases the trunk-cam may be remotely operated, allowing researchers to move it in order to get closer to the subject.

It is also possible to see tusk-cams, lightweight cameras which are draped on the tusks of an elephant. A tusk-cam will accompany the elephant wherever he or she goes, with biologists viewing the footage later to learn about where elephants go, and what kind of creatures they encounter. These cameras are typically ruggedized to withstand severe weather, heavy impacts, and other hazards which may be encountered during filming, and they can be quite expensive.

Elephants make great cinematographers not only because they move slowly and gently enough to film a fairly steady picture, but also because they fear few things in the jungle. Elephants are generally respected by other animals, and they are willing to venture to remote and dangerous locations because they are so large that they have few natural threats. They are also highly intelligent, and an elephant can be taught to use a trunk-cam with skills which sometimes surpass those of human cinematographers.

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