By Russ Van Horn, Ph.D., San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research scientist
Photos taken on 18 January, 2011 by a remote camera trap we have set up as part of an ongoing conservation science project to study the Andean bear illustrate that our sense of hearing, along with our sense of smell, is relatively weak compared to those of the large mammals living in the Peruvian forest — and that they react to us even when we don’t know they are there.
The first rapid sequence of ten photos shows a puma walking up the trail with its ears partly laid back and its forehead wrinkled, in what I interpret as an expression of unease. Seven minutes later, the remote camera took photos of two field workers arriving to change the camera’s batteries and memory card. Because this camera is set in a rugged area where the trail is quite steep, I suspect the humans were less than 300 meters away when the photos of the puma were taken.
I interpret these photos to indicate that the puma knew the humans were nearby, and that it was walking up the trail to avoid them. The trail is covered with moss and leaves, so footprints are virtually impossible for humans to see, and the men had no idea they were so close to a puma until they saw the photos from the remote camera. I’m sure the puma, and other animals in the area, were very aware that humans were present.
Fortunately, for the time being humans do not often go into the forests where we have set our remote cameras, and humans haven’t had a big impact there. That may be changing. Because the inter-oceanic highway has been built through the area, it is now easier to move large machinery into the area, and remove resources from the area. There are now a lot of people inside and outside of Perú who are interested in extracting natural resources that they couldn’t access before, and the human impact on the forests and the wildlife is growing.
The Cusco regional government has proposed conserving part of the area for sustainable use by local residents, and an NGO has proposed placing part of the area under its protection. We hope these efforts will conserve these forests and wildlife. For now, all we can do is wait and see, using advanced technology to compensate for our limited sensory systems.
The following four photos were taken by a remote camera in southeast Perú on 18 January, 2011: