Photos: Protected environments are working – study

Leopard (Panthera pardus) in Nouabale Ndoki National Park, Republic of Congo (Supplied / TEAM Network)
Leopard (Panthera pardus) in Nouabale Ndoki National Park, Republic of Congo (Supplied / TEAM Network)

Stunning photos have been released as part of a study into the effectiveness of protected tropical areas, showing wild animals captured by a series of motion-triggered cameras.

More than 1000 cameras were set up in tropical regions spanning Africa, Southeast Asia and Central and South America, creating the world's largest array of camera traps.

The study, published in PLOS Biology and ran by the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring Network (TEAM), investigated biodiversity trends in protected tropical forests.

Over the course of the study, there was no decline in the number and distribution of the 224 species examined in the 15 monitored areas, supporting the importance of having protected areas for animal populations to live in.

Analysis also found for the populations studied, 17 percent increased, while 22 percent stayed steady and another 22 percent decreased.

The study contrasts earlier reports of intense species decline in protected tropical forest areas – while the population numbers shifted, the overall biodiversity in the region remained the same.

In 2013, a study examining 60 protected areas and published in the Nature journal found a correlation between the biodiversity in tropical protected regions and the areas immediately surrounding them.

It highlighted the importance of creating a "buffer zone" around protected areas in order to maintain the biodiversity.

More than 2.5 million images were captured over eight years by the camera traps in TEAM's research, including intimate shots of jaguars and leopards as well as the vulnerable African forest elephant.

Managers of some of the areas monitored have already used the data to make changes. After a decline in African golden cats was noted in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, park managers redirected travellers to avoid the areas the cats had been spotted in.

It led to an increase in sightings of the African golden cats in the area, a species recognised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as vulnerable.

Lydia Beaudrot, a professor at the University of Michigan and a co-author of the study, placed heavy emphasis on the importance of protected areas in species conservation. 

"Species loss is especially high in tropical regions where most species live and where biodiversity threats are severe," she said. "Protected areas, such as national parks, are the cornerstone of species conservation, but whether protected areas really sustain animal populations and prevent extinction has been debated."

She said a lack of studies and high-quality data adds to the debate on the effectiveness of tropical protected areas.

Many populations observed in the study weren't caught on camera often enough to make an informative assessment.

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