Conservat Sci and Prac, Volume: 2, Issue: 10, First published: 05 September 2020, DOI: 10.1111/csp2.271 (Creative Commons)
I remember the first time I flipped through the images from a camera capturing the lives of wildlife without any humans around. After countless videos of grass blowing in the wind, there it was: A leopard, stalking a diminutive antelope called a dik dik through my experimental plots in the Kenyan savanna. I’ve been hooked ever since.
These glimpses into the animal world can help us navigate the needs of both wildlife and human recreation when designing protected areas. With people increasingly turning to the outdoors to socialize, exercise, and escape the 2020 news cycle, how might this be impacting wildlife and their habitat use? In a study published recently in Conservation Science and Practice, researchers used motion-triggered camera traps to examine how wildlife respond to human activity on the trails that bisect their habitat.
The researchers captured images of wildlife and humans in South Chilcotin Mountains Provincial Park in British Columbia. By strategically placing the cameras along trails, they identified 60 wildlife species. But the most common species recorded, by far, was humans.
Camera traps embed data such as the time and date on each photo. This lets the researchers calculate the time taken for a species to return after a human has passed through.
Focusing on the 13 most frequent species — including coyotes, bears, moose, and wolves — the researchers found that all avoided humans on trails, but appeared to have a stronger aversion to mountain bikes and motorized vehicles than to hikers and horseback riders. In fact, and somewhat surprisingly, mountain bikes appeared to exhibit the strongest avoidance response in both moose and grizzlies.
By dissecting how species react to human activity, we can better incorporate this information into land-use planning and conservation efforts. Particularly sensitive species can be protected by limiting new trails in their habitat, or by restricting the most disturbing activities during sensitive periods (such as nesting season).