Filming wolves using camera traps

by Paul White

Wolves are notoriously difficult to capture on camera. I have had my cameras out in the forest continuously for more than a year (occasionally relocated) and this is my first footage of wolves. 

They are very wary predators and cover a lot of ground each day looking for food. However, the two big advantages of winter is that wolves move further down from the higher mountain ranges in search of food and they leave tracks in the snow. 


Some observers believe they move down in winter due to the plummeting temperatures as food becomes more scarce. They believe the wolves become less risk averse, picking off stray dogs and looking for unprotected livestock. 

In my monitoring area in the lower forest there's an abundance of prey species that remain active during the winter, especially roe deer and large sounders of wild boar.  

Others believe that wolves are more emboldened to venture to the lower forests and much closer to human settlements because people are less active in the forest during winter. I think there are merits for both arguments and the truth probably lies somewhere in between the two.

I only have two camera traps, so I try to maximize my chances of successfully capturing some footage by spending time looking for signs of wildlife activity. This could be tracks found, animal corridors, hairs on a tree or ground, scat, verbal reports of sightings.

Whatever methods are used, gathering information when choosing a placement for a camera will always be better than randomly placing it on a tree without any prior research. 

In this situation I decided to place my cameras to overlook the same spot in a gully but from different angles. My first and best camera, a Browning Recon Force Advantage was pointing downhill and the second camera, an Alessio was pointing across and uphill. 

Both cameras are set to film for a maximum of 30 seconds at a time, so I missed the second wolf running uphill and maybe even more wolves from the same pack following behind. 

I am observing for the presence of species and their direction of travel. I know I'm probably missing out on a lot of exciting activity with this setup but I don't have the capacity or the software to handle huge amounts of data/footage. Each week I'm probably handling approximately 8-10 minutes of footage. 

The numerous wild boar and deer often hang around in front of the cameras which would soon fill my SD cards if I set them to openly run when triggered, not to mention increased battery consumption.



So the first camera starts rolling with wolf (1) already halfway through the frame. The camera starts after being triggered by a passing animal at 0.5 of one second, which indicates just how fast the wolf is travelling through the frame. There is then a gap of a few seconds before wolf (2) comes into the top left hand corner of the video. Unfortunately, this is near to the 30 second cut off point. 

The second camera then takes over from a different angle picking up wolf (2). I can't explain why it didn't pick up wolf (1). There's a 3 minute difference on the time stamps between the two clips, but after checking it was a difference in the time settings and not in actual time.

Notes:- 

1. I never 'bait' my camera traps with food to attract wildlife. In many countries this is illegal. It's easy to habituate wildlife to attend sites where they know they can find food, which is unethical and promotes unnatural behaviour. OK, you may have to wait longer to capture an animal on camera, but at least you have done so without compromising the subject.

2. Be careful not to give away the specific location of your camera. Camera traps are also popular tools for hunters and poachers. I don't think this needs any further explanation.