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  • Critters meet cameras

May 2011

A giant panda in the Chinese wilderness comes upon a camera attached to a tree. Curious, it approaches the instrument and attempts to put it into its mouth. Through the lens remotely, we catch a glimpse of the secret lives of these animals.

Motion-triggered “camera traps” are increasingly used by researchers to study wildlife. Their sensors register an animal’s body heat and movement and take a picture or video clip. The cameras often are attached to trees or posts along animal trails – placed to study ground-based animals or birds and other creatures that inhabit the forest canopies.

A tayra in Peru near a camera that captures candid images of wildlife. The Smithsonian Institution has launched a website for viewing photos of animals in their natural habitats. Photos courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution.

The Washington-based Smithsonian Institution recently established a website that brings us photographs – up close, candid and untouched – of various elusive and rare creatures in the wild. The site allows us to see a jaguar, clouded leopard or a golden snub-nosed monkey in its own territory. Interestingly, visitors can scroll through photos taken at a single watering hole to view the series of animals that have passed by.

A giant panda looks toward a camera in the Chinese wilderness.

The Smithsonian WILD! website provides more than 200,000 “candid critter” photos of more than 200 species of mammals and birds acquired through monitoring projects worldwide. The online collections represent seven projects conducted by Smithsonian researchers and their colleagues, spanning the globe from the Laikipia District in Kenya to the Appalachian Trail in Virginia, from the Panama Canal to the Adirondacks in New York, and from the Amazon Rainforest in Peru to wilderness tracts in Malaysia and Thailand.

A giant panda looks into the lens of a “camera trap” positioned in the Chinese wilderness to take pictures of animals in their natural habitats.

The project at the Giant Panda Reserves in China involved a network of more than 700 strategically placed film and digital cameras, including models made by CamTrakker. The goal was to determine the distribution of large-mammal species within the reserves and to help local residents monitor the animals.

At the Smithsonian’s Barro Colorado Island Nature Monument in the Panama Canal, Republic of Panama, a survey was conducted to determine the community of mammals occupying the region’s island/peninsulas. The project consisted of 210 camera stations using Reconyx Inc.’s RC55 model.

The Smithsonian WILD! experience at can be shared through social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. Links also are provided from each photo to corresponding species pages in reference sources such as the Encyclopedia of Life and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History’s “North American Mammals” web pages.

Relax and enjoy nature’s diversity.

On the Web

We have a lot more critter closeups – visit

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