Ferals caught in the act – Scientists lay network of 600 cameras

AN extensive network of camera traps has been installed across Tasmania to monitor feral and threatened wildlife.

Researchers at the University of Tasmania have designed and deployed 600 camera traps, first in the South-West, and now across Tasmania.

Cats are an enormous environmental problem in Australia, with the introduced species estimated to kill more than three billion animals per year.

Monitoring cat populations is key to reducing their impact, however most methods such as spotlight surveys and track counts are ineffective in forested areas.

To help address this, a team of wildlife ecologists led by Dr Jessie Buettel alongside Professor Barry Brook have developed a new way to track feral cats using their extensive network of camera traps.

Dr Buettel said it was one of the largest-scale networks of its kind in the world with more than 1300 unique camera sites and 600 currently active camera traps, and counting, deployed across Tasmania.

“The camera trap network started in 2015, with the first units deployed in the south-west of the state before being gradually rolled out across all the different regions in Tasmania,” Dr Buettel said.
“So far we have amassed three-quarters of a million unique images of animals across 150 species, including more than 50,000 images of Tasmanian devils.”

To handle such a large database of images, Dr Buettel and Professor Brook, in collaboration with Dr Zach Aandahl, are also developing an animal Ferals caught in the act detection and classification tool capable of identifying the wildlife species within the images with over 99 per cent accuracy.

“Our aim is to design a permanent wildlife monitoring system that automatically captures, assesses and classifies all the different species found in our forests, woodlands and grasslands,” Dr Buettel said.
“This allows us to find out where our species are, how they select their habitat, and how they respond to changes to these habitats caused by natural disturbances like fire and human impacts like land clearing, forestry activity and tourism.
“For important species-specific projects like that on feral cats, the benefits are that we can track where these animals are, how many there are, and how they are impacting other vulnerable species.”

The camera-trap network will be expanding further this year, with 400 more cameras set to be deployed in the most remote areas of Tasmania; regions that have never been surveyed and are only accessible by helicopter or via long hiking expeditions.