They may be hard to track…but camera shy? Hardly. In WCS’s latest camera trap survey of Bolivia’s outstanding Madidi National Park, a record-setting 19 jaguars turned up in front of the lenses.

As with tigers and stripes, each jaguar has a unique spot pattern, a trait that helped the WCS conservationists ID the individuals. In total, the remote cameras snapped 975 candid shots of the 19 cats–more jaguar images captured than ever before, and the most jaguars ever identified by a single camera trap survey in Bolivia.

The researchers set up the camera traps in the Alto Madidi and Alto Heath, a region at the headwaters of the Madidi and Heath Rivers. The survey also included Ixiamas Municipal Reserve, created following a previous WCS survey in 2004 along the Madidi River, which revealed an abundance of jaguars as well as white-lipped peccaries, spider monkeys, and giant otters.

“We’re excited about the prospect of using these images to find out more about this elusive cat and its ecological needs,” said WCS conservationist Dr. Robert Wallace. “The data gleaned from these images provide insights into the lives of individual jaguars and will help us generate a density estimate for the area.”

The study is also noteworthy in its use of digital camera traps in place of traditional film units. To use the technique, researchers strategically place cameras along forest pathways, streams, and riverbanks for weeks at a time. Each time an animal crosses a camera’s infrared beam, a picture is snapped. Researchers returning to the traps can download the images in seconds, without waiting for film to develop.

Before embarking on second field trip to the even more remote Heath River, Bolivian jaguar field biologist Guido Ayala noted that the “series of digital images also captures more data than traditional film.”

“The preliminary results of this new expedition underscore the importance of the Madidi landscape to jaguars and other charismatic rainforest species,” said Dr. Julie Kunen, Director of WCS’s Latin America and Caribbean Program.

Madidi National Park is one of the top tourist attractions and the centerpiece of a continuous chain of six national protected areas in northwestern Bolivia and southeastern Peru. WCS works to develop local capacity to conserve the landscape from a variety of threats, including the impacts of poorly planned development such as road construction, hydroelectric projects, logging, and agricultural expansion. WCS also works to improve local livelihoods in the region through community enterprises.

WCS has conserved jaguars for decades and launched the WCS Jaguar Conservation Program in 1999 to assess the needs of wild jaguars and minimize potential conflicts with humans.

To learn more, read the press release >>