THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The kind of images that get accidentally caught in the nearly 2,000 camera traps hidden on tree tops inside the state’s tiger reserves can rival even those captured by celebrated wildlife photographers. Causing jitters within the Forest Department, some of these images have found their way into popular social media sites like WhatsApp and YouTube. Pictures that are used exclusively for smart forest management strategies are now out in the open, accessible to poachers and smugglers desperate for such information.
“The department is making efforts to use camera traps as a tool for management purposes and, therefore, the photo documentation and data generated by these traps have immense security implications in terms of protection and management of natural resources,” said chief wildlife warden G Harikumar. The leak of camera trap pictures, in short, has compromised the security of endangered species like tigers and leopards. “Some of these pictures can reveal the position of our big cats, and even specific flora, to poachers and smugglers of forest wealth,” a wildlife warden in the north of the state said. The chief wildlife warden has urgently shot off an inter-departmental missive directing officers dealing with camera traps to keep the documents under safe custody and share them “only on a need to know basis”, and with due authorisation by divisional forest officers or wildlife wardens.
It is after every 30 days that the chip containing the pictures is downloaded from camera traps hidden in the deeps. “The pictures are then processed by a team of officers and downloaded into a computer. Once in the computer, these pictures could be copied to other computers or mobile phones, and shared,” a top forest official said. Camera traps have been set up in Parambikulam and Periyar tiger reserves with the help of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). In Wayanad, camera traps have been mounted with the assistance of Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) founded by Ullas Karanth. A major advantage of camera traps is that, unlike the pug-mark method, it avoids multiple counting of tigers which freely moves across borders.