Camera trap monitoring in a pandemic

By 15th May 2020June 9th, 2020Blog

In the second of our blogs from the WCS team in China, Ren Yi reminds us that not all conservation happens out in the forest. Hundreds of mages from camera trap monitoring need to be assessed and catalogued and tigers and leopards identified by their stripes and rosettes. It’s this analysis which provides evidence that conservation being carried out with partner organisations across the landscape is having a positive impact.

Camera Trap Monitoring in a Pandemic:  Remembering Where We Came From, and Where We Want to Go 

by Ren Yi, WCS China 

Camera trap monitoring is an important part of our field program in northeast China, helping us understand changes in the populations of tigers and leopards. We work collaboratively with the Hunchun Nature Reserve on the Russian and North Korea borders to monitor 50 camera trap stations, covering approximately 450 km2 of Amur tiger and leopard habitat. 

During the height of the COVID-19 outbreak in China, in February and March 2020, we did not go into the field at all. Rather, we worked from home to analyze our camera trap data. We identified 17 individual tigers and 13 individual leopards, including 2 tiger family units and 1 leopard family unit. In contrast, twenty years ago, WCS staff helped lead a survey looking for tracks of big cats in this same region: the results yielding evidence of a single tiger.  It is remarkable that such a dramatic comeback has occurred over those twenty years, and a testimony to what can be done when people – from governments and non-governmental organizations – work together towards a common conservation goal. It is an honor to be a part of this remarkable transformation, but we know there is still much to be done to secure a future for these big cats in northeast China.


We want to return to the forest as soon as possible, with hopes that in May we can check our cameras to determine what has changed in the interim. But for now, we are all now on the viruses timeline, not our own.