“Beacon of hope”: Camera traps reveal insights critical for conservation in Brazil and Nigeria

May 20, 2024

Camera trap footage from two CLP-funded projects has revealed new insights on threatened species in Brazil and Nigeria. Here, the conservationists leading the projects explain what they’ve found and why these insights are crucial for future conservation action.

A camera trap survey as part of a 2023 CLP project has captured surprising footage of jaguars in two field sites in central Brazil © Pró-Onça Institute

Jaguars in Brazil

As part of a 2023 CLP project, Leticía Benavalli and her team at her recently established NGO, the Pró-Onça Institute, have been conducting camera trap surveys in both Pirineus State Park and Brasilia National Park in the state of Goiás, central Brazil.

Here, the dominant vegetation is Cerrado (upland savanna trees); a crucial habitat for medium and large mammals such as puma, jaguar, lowland tapirs, and giant anteaters, many of which are threatened by climate change, habitat loss and conflict with local people.

One key discovery from the project so far is that jaguars are breeding in Pirineus State Park (PSP).

Leticía was amazed when the camera traps revealed images of a mother and cub together, explaining: “This is the first-ever documented evidence that these magnificent and elusive big cats are breeding within the Pirineus State Park.”

A camera trap survey as part of a 2023 CLP project has revealed the first-ever documented evidence of jaguars breeding in the Pirineus National Park, Brazil © Pró-Onça Institute

Letícia also deployed camera traps in the unprotected private farmland areas surrounding PSP (with permission from the landowners), which revealed that jaguars were frequently entering these areas.

She explains: “I didn’t expect to get so much [camera trap] footage of jaguars outside the protected area. One of my theories is that because this park isn’t very big, they need to leave it to look for food or establish a territory. But I need to look into this further to confirm exactly why it’s happening.”

She says these unexpected findings show how important it is to work more with private landowners and other local community members to gain their understanding and support.

“Jaguars will attack livestock, especially if they are used to it, which might lead to retaliatory killings by farmers.

As part of our CLP project, we are talking to the landowners (and other stakeholders) to try to reduce this conflict and raise awareness. Our interviews so far have uncovered mixed views. Some farmers say they won’t kill jaguars. But some have very negative attitudes towards them because the loss of livestock costs them money.

We urgently need to work with these farmers to compensate them for their losses and help reduce the conflict with jaguars.”

The camera trap survey also revealed an abundance of typical prey for jaguars, including tapir, marsh deer, giant armadillo and peccary, as well as evidence that giant anteaters and pumas are successfully breeding in the park.

Camera traps from the 2023 CLP project reveal evidence that pumas (top image) and giant anteaters (bottom image) are successfully breeding in Pirineus State Park, Brazil © Pró-Onça Institute

More remarkable footage was captured by Letícia’s camera traps in Brasilia National Park (BNP). This huge national park (covering 423 sq km) is found on the outskirts of Brazil’s capital city, Brasilia, and is the world’s largest park in an urbanized area.

Unexpectedly, the camera traps recorded videos of multiple jaguars in BNP. Letícia explains that this footage reveals an urban jaguar population resurgence in the region, considering that these big cats had not been seen within BNP for nearly 60 years (with the exception of one random sighting in 2021).

“The dedicated monitoring through our camera trap survey has provided systematic evidence of jaguars reclaiming their habitat in BNP,” said Letícia. “This video footage underscores the importance of continued conservation initiatives and serves as a beacon of hope for the coexistence of wildlife and urban environments.”

Watch one of the camera trap videos from Brasilia National Park below:

In March 2024, Letícia officially established her new NGO, the Pró-Onça Institute, including launching the NGO’s website and social media pages on LinkedIn and Instagram. She first had the idea during CLP’s Conservation Management & Leadership course in Mexico, which she attended with 12 other 2023 CLP award-winners from all over the world.

“I talked to some of the other trainees [at CML] who had already set up an NGO, and I thought, ‘okay, I can do it, let’s start.’ So, once I got back to Brazil, I started the process of getting it legally registered. The plan is to try to bring more attention to the work we are doing here.”

Letícia explains that her NGO is not just dedicated to large carnivore conservation, but also to women’s empowerment in science and climate change mitigation across Latin America.

Preuss’s monkeys in Nigeria

Last year, a delayed 2021 CLP project set out to uncover crucial information about Preuss’s monkeys on the Obudu Plateau, in Cross River State, south east Nigeria. This charismatic primate is classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, with its rapidly decreasing numbers thought mainly to be due to habitat loss through deforestation.

Despite the grave situation faced by this species, little is known about the populations living in the fragmented forest patches of the Obudu Plateau. Do they still persist, and if they do – how many are left and where are they? What’s causing their population decline? And is their remaining habitat sufficiently healthy?

The Endangered Preuss’s monkey © Richard Bergl

These are just some of the questions that the CLP project team set out to answer by carrying out the first-ever intensive survey of Preuss’s monkeys on the Obudu Plateau.

Led by Eyituoyo Ofuya with the support of other project team members, Netanela Duke and Usman Bawa, of the Obudu Conservation Centre, the team searched for the monkeys on foot, walking 488km over 138 days through 22 scattered forest patches, and deployed camera traps in 12 of these patches.

The Obudu Plateau, Cross River State, south east Nigeria © Obudu Conservation Centre

This heroic effort paid off, with the team establishing the persistence of Preuss’s monkeys on the Obudu Plateau.

However, the species was found in only five of 22 forest patches surveyed, indicating its low population density in the region.

Eyituoyo explained another key insight revealed by the camera traps: “We discovered previously unrecorded groups of the species in some of the forest patches of the Plateau. This highlights the need for continuous surveys and monitoring of the species, especially in areas not covered by this study.”

The camera traps also revealed fascinating footage of Preuss’s monkey behaviours, including foraging, guarding, grooming and fighting, as well as evidence of successful breeding.

Watch the video below to see them in action:

The project’s camera traps also detected other primate species in the region including the Endangered putty-nosed monkey, highlighting further need for increased protection of the area.

During the survey, the team witnessed deforestation activities and the destruction of Preuss’s monkey habitat and that of other wildlife on the plateau (farming activities, logging, bush burning and cattle grazing).

Sadly, they also found some deceased Preuss’s monkeys caught in hunting traps.

But through the team’s interviews with the local Becheve people, Preuss’s monkeys are now known not to be actively targeted by hunters, due to a taboo against consumption of the “black monkey” (although locals are concerned by crop raiding by these and other primates).

Unfortunately, then, it seems that Preuss’s monkeys in this region are not only threatened by habitat loss but also risk being caught in hunting traps targeting other species. This is a cause for concern for the team and something they hope to alleviate through continued outreach with local hunters and other community members.

Indeed, Eyituoyo is staying positive: “The information we collected in our CLP project will be incredibly useful for developing a conservation action plan for the Preuss’s monkey, which we hope will forestall the current population decline on the plateau.”

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