TEAM Project Marks Three Years in the Virunga Massif!

Deep into the forests Reconyx HC 500 camera traps are installed/deployed onto trees to capture information on distribution and frequency of terrestrial vertebrates and ground-dwelling birds. The cameras are water proof so one doesn’t have to worry about the changing weather. The IGCP Field Assistant, with support from park staff, deploys camera traps in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda during the dry season from June to September each year.

According to the design, 30 camera traps are deployed in two arrays. The first array is deployed from the western end of the park and they spend 30 days in the forest after which they are picked and images are downloaded. The second array of camera traps are deployed up to the eastern end of the park and this includes Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda. In addition, six permanent vegetation plots have been established in which various vegetation parameters are recorded on an annual basis by the IGCP Field Assistant and park staff.

IGCP Director, Field Officer and Assistant deploying a camera trap in the Virunga Massif. Photo by: Michel Masozera

IGCP Director, Field Officer and  Field Assistant deploying a camera trap in the Virunga Massif. Photo by: Michel Masozera

“Going through the thousands of captured images, seeing various animal species – both regular and new – might be taxing but it also definitely is an exciting thing to do and experience” says Eustrate Uzabaho, the IGCP Field Assistant Officer In-charge of TEAM activities.

The global-standard Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring (TEAM) site was initiated in the Virunga Massif in 2014 with  the aim of  generating real time data for monitoring long-term trends in tropical biodiversity, land cover change, climate and ecosystem services in tropical forests through a global network of field stations. This TEAM site project was established under the support of Conservation International (CI) through Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and is being implemented by the International Gorilla Conservation Program (IGCP).

Whereas tropical ecosystems are the richest and diverse areas in terms of biological diversity in the world, they are also among the most threatened: for instance, there is lack of concise and rigorous scientific information to support conservation management decisions. The TEAM Network was precisely created to address this and other related issues.

Three years down the road a lot has been done, learned and captured, for instance; 3 protocols have been implemented; terrestrial vertebrate (camera trapping), climate protocol and vegetation protocol, lots of images and new species have also been captured/identified. In 2014 and 2015 for instance nearly 120,000 images were collected, 19 different species identified, including the elusive African Golden Cat. While in 2016 about 80,000 camera trap images have been captured, around 15 species identified so far including the most common ungulate species, primate species, birds and small mammals. Interestingly new species that had never been seen in the last 2 years have also been identified, that is, the Egyptian mongoose and squirrel (species’ names to be determined soon).

African Golden Cat, Photo by: TEAM Network

African Golden Cat, Photo by: TEAM Network

Commenting on the three years journey and next steps, Charles Kayijamahe, IGCP Field Officer and IGCP Team Site’s Project Manager notes, “So far, we are satisfied with the results from the camera traps; the number of camera trap pictures in our data bank keeps increasing. We have also observed some patterns of some species’ habitat use, although no rigorous statistical data analyses on the abundance, occupancy, distribution and changes over time of key species has been done yet. This will be our priority next year.” Next year, IGCP also plans to use the data collected from the camera traps to perform statistical analyses toward a scientific publication. In addition, information from data analyses will be packaged and shared with park managers and conservation stakeholders. This information is expected to support management decisions related to wildlife population in the Virunga Massif.

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