Camera Traps Keep Unblinking Vigil on the Lomami Forest

Field update from John Hart and Maurice Emetshu

elephants with muddy knees
Elephants with muddy knees amble by night around a clearing in the northern TL2 forest.

This year, for the first time, we used camera traps in the TL2 forests to learn about animals that, previously, we knew only by the signs they left behind — their tracks, their dung…

In late March Maurice, our senior field leader, took eight cameras and a supply of rechargeable batteries to our northern base camp, Obenge. He experimented with different ways of hiding, attaching and aiming the cameras. He is thrilled – and so are we!

Maurice downloads photo from camer trap
John and Pablo watch as Maurice downloads camera trap photos. The camera is visible on the treelet behind them.

At a small forest opening:

Maurice used the small mineral lick called Musubuku, hoping to find out how often different animals visited. During the day we never see animals; their tracks leave only an imprecise record of their nocturnal visits. Maurice set cameras with an infrared light beam as a detector. The infrared flash does not emit visible light, but captures the image in the dark of night without being detected by most animals.

Bongo at Musubuku clearing
A young adult male bongo visited Musubuku every few nights.


Buffalo going by
A group of four buffalo were also regular repeat visitors.

The elephants, whose photo is above, visited the clearling for a few successive nights and then were gone.

At Losekola, one of our research sites:

Maurice fixed the cameras along our research paths, or transects, at Losekola where we wondered if they could help us determine the prevalence of less visible animals. In the forest, animals can be hard to detect, either because they are nocturnal or just because they are very discrete. The cameras recorded twelve species so far, including the following:

Bonobo with his back to camera
A bonobo with his back to the camera at Losekola. Many of the photos, like this one, were taken with infrared NOT because it was night, but because of low sub-canopy light levels.

A sounder of Red River Hogs
Six red river hogs moving in a tight sounder or group along a path.

In some pictures the animal that triggered the shot is less obvious:
Diminutive elephant shrew
The diminutive four-toed elephant shrew is in the lower right corner.

Elephant shrew
Up close, a very active creature of the forest floor.

Field worker, Pablo, who is also in the photo above, was lucky to catch the same species on his hand-held camera:
Pterdromus tetradactyla, the four toed elephant shrew
Petrodromus tetradactylus up close.

Blue duiker along a trail
Captured as the sun streamed through the canopy, this camera trap photo of a Blue Duiker is in the full color of visible light.

Our presence has kept most hunters from using the Losekola forest, but our cameras “captured” one poacher, Nova. The village had agreed to protect our studysite, so the chief of Obenge confiscated Nova’s unregistered shotgun after Maurice showed the photo below.

Nova, a poacher, stalks our study area
Nova (above) was caught “red-handed” hunting in the Losekola study area. This shows that camera traps,  developed from surveillance cameras such as those in stores and banks, can still be used for that original purpose in the TL2 forests.

At our base camp:

And it goes both ways: people (like Nova above) stealing from the forest and the forest (in this case, a leopard) stealing from people.

There was a leopard hanging around near the village of Obenge, stealing chickens and goats. Maurice wondered if he could capture it on a camera trap– and he did – “red handed” or “red jawed” with a chicken in his teeth.

Leopard  with the evidence between his jaws
The leopard prowls along the edge of our project compound in Obenge; with a feathery snack  already nabbed.


  1. Posted 2012-08-08 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    Well done !!!! This is really an incredible report and so very exciting.

  2. Posted 2012-08-08 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

    Those are amazing shots!

  3. pam
    Posted 2012-08-09 at 12:41 am | Permalink

    Beautiful photos

  4. a bongo yea all exci
    Posted 2012-08-09 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    I was up your way with Bob while he was recovering from surgery. Sorry to have missed you. good visit to our school in Kenya, 500 plus students. I saw my one and only Bongo in 1979 at the Ark in Kenya.

  5. michael
    Posted 2012-08-11 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    The camera trap show that that this forest is still surprisingly rich. I like camera traps (for instance a tiger 4000 m asl high in the himalaya was discovered ).

  6. john hart
    Posted 2012-08-11 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Michael for your comment.
    I agree there is still a richness of animals in the TL2. Cryptic, yes, and not everywhere. But the camera traps will help us determine what is where….And provide surprises as well, as you point out in your mention of the discovery of the tiger at 4000m.

  7. JP d'Huart
    Posted 2012-08-25 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    Exciting way of identifying both conservation values and threats! Congratulations. Red River Hogs are cute, but if you get a Giant Forest Hog, I’ll pay the next tournée!

  8. john hart
    Posted 2012-08-25 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Jean Pierre. We will be on the lookout for your beloved Hylochère, but I dont think they are known to occur in the Congo’s left bank forests…But as we are finding in the TL2, there are surprises. So if there is anything that comes up on the cameras, we’ll be sending the photos to you for confirmation…And it would be delightful to have you on that next tournée.

  9. linda mininger
    Posted 2012-08-26 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    Would you, Terese or John, share an individual email address to which I can send some info. We enjoyed a wonderful 4 days in Epulu in May of 2009 and are deeply saddened by the recent tragedies there.

    Linda Mininger

  10. Greg Davies
    Posted 2012-08-28 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    Great photos! Very exciting.

  11. genna anderson
    Posted 2013-11-14 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

    As usual, Terry,you come up with wonderful sights and I hope that it continues to go well for you on the Lomami . I love seeing what you send and I send you guys my love -and-some money.

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