Last week, we set up our third camera trap grid for this year. While the first and second were aimed at carnivores in general (distance sampling), this one is exclusively aimed for leopard.
Leopards are well known for their secretive and shy behaviour so catching them on camera is not an easy task as many scientists would agree! This is why sometimes the use of lures becomes a useful tool. There are a growing number of studies pointing at a specific perfume to attract especially felines: Calvin Klein’s Obsession! This perfume has been used to draw ocelots, fishing cats, snow leopards, and even the rare African Golden cat. The reason would be that this is owning to a special component of the chemical composition, the civetone1,2. This element was originally extracted from civets but thankfully not anymore, as it is artificially made nowadays. It is supposedly used to make the perfume stand longer and this seems to drive the cats crazy!
Our grid is divided into stations, a station being composed of two cameras almost directly facing each other (i.e. to avoid the flash glare). This setup allows for clear pictures of both flanks of the animal which will aid identifying individuals. In fact, leopard spots differ from one individual to another and work like an ID card. However, for the pictures to be less blurry, the animal needs to stand still. This is where the lure is useful: as we place it centrally between the two cameras, it increases the chance of the animal to stop and investigate, standing still long enough for the picture to be clear.
Thanks to this method, we will be able to build an ID kit regrouping the different individuals occurring within the survey area. With accurate identification of individuals, it will also allow us to compare these findings to the previous leopards pictured during prior surveys. Often we only had one side of the animal before so the result of this third grid will help to potentially differentiate sightings, leading to better population estimates.