Riveting Camera Trap Photos Create New Database of Amazon Wildlife

Study documents habitat loss, fragmentation, and climate change.

puma captured on a camera trap in Ecuador
Puma photographed in Ecuador on a camera trap.


A big cat rolls around on the ground playfully with her cubs. A giant anteater wallows in the mud, taking a cooling bath. Lots of animals pause, take a moment, and stare.

These are all images and videos captured by camera traps in the Amazon basin over nearly two decades.

Scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) provided more than 57,000 images from camera traps for a new study by researchers from 120 institutions. The study includes more than 120,000 images of 289 species snapped in eight countries. The result is the largest photo database of Amazon wildlife.

The images were collected for about two decades from 143 field sites across the vast Amazon basin.

The first camera traps were developed about a century ago, but they were first used as an important tool to study wildlife in the early 1990s, study co-author Robert Wallace, director of WCS’s Greater Madidi-Tambopata Landscape Program, tells Treehugger.

“Since the turn of the century, camera traps have been increasingly used in the Amazon basin to estimate jaguar populations, as well as several other focal species, as well as to gather data on wildlife diversity, activity patterns, and natural history,” Wallace says. “This study is the first to centralize data from dozens of researchers in eight countries across the Amazon basin with data from 2001 to 2020.”

The goal of the study was to create a database of Amazon wildlife images while documenting habitat loss, fragmentation, and climate change.

The findings were published in the journal Ecology.

Animals Bathing and Napping

short-eared zorro captured in Bolivia on a camera trap
Short-eared zorro photographed in Bolivia.


When the study was complete, researchers had 154,123 images of 317 species. That included 185 birds, 119 mammals, and 13 reptiles.

The most frequently photographed mammal was the spotted or lowland paca (Cuniculus paca), a rodent, which was recorded nearly 12,000 times. The most snapped bird was the razor-billed curassow (Pauxi tuberosa), which was recorded more than 3,700 times. And the most camera-seeking reptile was the gold tegu lizard (Tupinambis teguixin) which was caught on camera 716 times.

“The focal species for the majority of the photos included in the study was the jaguar (Panthera onca), simply the wildlife symbol of the Amazon,” Wallace says.

But lots of other fascinating moments and animals were recorded.

“Camera traps pick up animals when they are least expecting it—for example, giant anteaters (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) taking a mud bath, a crested eagle (Morphnus guianensis) drinking and taking a puddle bath, or a puma or cougar (Puma concolor) taking a nap.”

The camera traps collected data from eight countries: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela.

Catching Rare, Shy, and Nocturnal Species

crested eagle caught on camera trap in Bolivia
A crested eagle poses in Bolivia.


Camera traps are critical to wildlife research because they are a non-invasive way of collecting information. Well-designed camera trap studies that use multiple camera trap stations can monitor wildlife populations and how they change over time.

“For species that are individually recognizable, like jaguars or ocelots, we can even calculate population densities and then estimate how many occur in a given area,” Wallace says.

“Many of the most cryptic species are incredibly difficult to study because they are so hard to observe, either because they are rare, shy, nocturnal, or all three (!), but multiple camera traps left in the forest for 1-2 months or more can observe them for us.”

Advanced technology has made camera trap usage easier, but there are still issues in the field.

“With the advent of digital cameras, we can now monitor camera traps when we visit them to check batteries and SD cards periodically in the forest, but prior to that we had to wait to develop sometimes hundreds of film rolls before we knew what we had photographed!” Wallace says. “Our camera traps are precious and sometimes we have to rescue them from sudden flooding events.”

Having this massive database will be critical for continuing research, scientists say.

“With increasing concerns about the impact of climate change on wildlife distribution and abundance, this collated dataset provides a baseline with which we can monitor change over time into the future,” says Wallace. “It is also important to stress that analytical techniques are constantly evolving and making these data available is a huge step forward for science and wildlife in the Amazon.”

View Article Sources
  1. Antunes, Ana Carolina, et al. "AMAZONIA CAMTRAP: A dataset of mammal, bird, and reptile species recorded with camera traps in the Amazon forest." Ecology, e3738, 13 May 2022. doi:10.1002/ecy.3738

  2. "WCS Scientists Provide More Than 50K Camera Trap Images for Massive Study on Amazon Wildlife." WCS Newsroom, 16 May 2022.

  3. study co-author Robert Wallace, director of WCS’s Greater Madidi-Tambopata Landscape Program