Camera trapping in Quang Nam

From our base camp we set off in the early morning and hiked through forest still gripped by the coolness of night. We hiked single file without speaking for two hours and then stopped to rest in an open clearing where the amber-tinted new morning light fell warm and bright. One of the team members took a drink from a nearby mountain stream. I mopped the sweat from my forehead and examined the map: two kilometers down and one more to go: we were making good time. Our target location for setting the cameras was in an area of the Quang Nam Saola Nature Reserve that I had never been to before. It was remote and on the map the forest looked excellent. I had high hopes for this set. After a five minute rest I signaled to the group that it was time to set off: I wanted to cover as much ground as possible before the morning coolness turned into full furnace-blast tropical heat. I could already feel the warmth prickling the nape of my neck. We shouldered our packs and trekked on. We started up a steep incline and the hiking became more and more difficult, each step turning into a lungs-burning, leg-cramping effort. The minutes dripped slowly by. I could feel my legs begin to buckle. After another hour we had reached our destination—which was good, because I don’t know if I could have gone any farther.

But the work was just beginning. As I’ve mentioned in past writings, camera trapping is an art, and one that requires a good deal of hard work if done properly. Anyone can go to a location, strap a camera on a tree, and hit the “on” button. But scouting an area to find the right tree to get the right shot—ahh, that isn’t quite so simple. And so, now that we were in the area we needed to be in to set our cameras, the real work began. We took a quick breather. Then we fanned out, each person reading the landscape, looking for animal sign, trails, promising trees to put a camera: all the essential ingredients for the right setup. For several minutes the only sounds were the whirring of cicadas high up in the trees and the crunching of dry leaves underfoot as the team members shuffled through the jungle. But then Sang called my name: he had found something. I jump-stepped to where he was and looked down at the ground. There, imprinted into the damp soil, was a hoofprint. There was half an inch of space between the tips of the individual hoofs: the telltale sign for a wild pig track. Other signs—broken twigs, nipped shoots—indicated a high degree of animal activity here. I clapped Sang on the shoulder and said “Good eye.” Then we both scanned the immediate area. Fortunately for us, it was a relatively flat spot: setting cameras on steep inclines can be a tricky undertaking. We looked for a good tree. There were two suitable trees and we debated for several minutes which one would be better, each of us trying to anticipate exactly how the animal would move through this patch of forest, how it would enter and exit the scene we were preparing. We eventually chose Sang’s tree as the better of the two. Then we strapped on the camera, played with the angles, took test pictures, readjusted the height, took more test pictures—and finally gave the setup our stamp of approval. We turned the camera on and began the long hike back to camp. As we walked away I wondered if we would only get common species like wild pig and macaque—or would we catch the elusive Annamite striped rabbit on film? Only time would tell.

Adjusting the second camera
Adjusting the second camera
Vien takes a drink from a mountain stream
Stopping to take a drink

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