Camera trapping at IIT Tirupati

Camera trapping is useful in observing animal behaviour or accessing biodiversity of a place. This method particularly increases the chances of obtaining images and videos of rare and elusive wildlife from areas where there is little survey have been done. They let us make secret observations of nature which we can’t see in our presence. The Scuirid Lab at IISER Tirupati conducted its first camera trapping experiments in the IIT Tirupati permanent campus, which is located on the slopes of the Eastern Ghats, at Merlapaka village on the Yerpedu-Venkatagiri Road, Chittoor district, Andhra Pradesh. The campus consists of Dry Deciduous Scrub Forests and Grasslands, and includes habitat types like wetlands, fruit orchards and secondary scrub spread over 530 acres. This is the perfect habitat for many species of mammals.

Scrub and grassland habitats on IIT Tirupati campus. Photo credits: Harikrishnan CP

We used Cuddeback Long Range IR camera traps to detect the presence of various mammals present in the campus. We categorised the campus into grids of size 250m*250m. We deployed two camera traps first and added three more. The camera traps were deployed in both scrub forest and grassland patches across different grids close to boundary walls adjoining forest for 27 days (25-03-18 to 20-04-18). Two camera traps were in the same grid due to the availability of potential camera trap locations. We tried to place these camera traps near the gaps in the boundary wall to see whether there is any animal movement across the gaps in the walls. The camera traps generated thousands of images because of the movement of leaves and grasses due to heavy wind. We obtained photographs of two mammals at night from a camera trap placed in scrub habitat. One of the cameras also triggered a bird flying during the day. The two mammals we photographed were:

● Four-horned Antelope or Chousingha (Tetracerus quadricornis): The only antelope in the world with two sets of horns. They are highly territorial, solitary or in pairs and prefer open woodland, scrub and grassland fringes.
● Indian crested Porcupine (Hystrix indica): The largest rodent in the country which comes out from underground burrows in the night. It has an array of long sharp quills running from head to tail as its defence mechanism. It is a widespread species in the rocky scrub habitats, and is reported from the Eastern Ghats. However, there seem to be no records of porcupines occurring in the Tirupati landscape, and neither the forest department list for SV National Park nor the EIA report for IIT Tirupati list this species. This photograph is possibly a first from the region!

Four-horned antelope and porcupine on IIT Tirupati campus. Photo credits: Sciurid Lab, IISER Tirupati

Apart from these camera trap images of the two mammals, we sighted a few Indian Hare/Black-naped Hare (Lepus nigricollis) and saw faeces of many other mammals during the sampling period.

Our first attempt at camera trapping , though full of challenges, was rewarding as we managed to capture two cryptic species. It is great that we got a four-horned antelope, which is normally very difficult to sight!

Harikrishnan CP is a BSMS student at IISER Tirupati who worked with the Sciurid Lab for a semester camera trapping mammals within IIT Tirupati campus.

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Harikrishnan CP, a BSMS student at IISER Tirupati, is interested in birds, wildlife and cooking.

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