Critter Cams


Critter cams, or whatever it is you want to call the cameras available for monitoring or ‘watching’ wildlife, are all the rage with hunters. But they are also a great tool for biologists and anyone else who is engaged or interested in wildlife management.

After retirement, I have stayed active with respect to trying to keep tabs on our local elk herd. In 2000 and 2001, we brought and released 104 elk from Alberta into northwestern Ontario, as the animals were once extant (they existed) in this area.

We have 7 ‘critter cams’ and are using them to monitor the elk herd. After a rough start, the elk seem to be holding their own, although the critter cams show there are a lot of big predators – bears and wolves – so their future is by no means assured (there are also other issues, like poaching). We think the habitat is suitable, but there are a lot of variables. The pics from our cameras will hopefully help in answering at least some pieces of the puzzle.

Interestingly, the elk seem to be the animals who have the biggest interest in the critter cam itself. We have many eyeball shots of elk – like this 6X6 bull – but very few similar shots of any other mammal. The other species sometimes see or acknowledge the camera – especially the bears – but only the elk take real interest in them.

In addition to elk, we have lots of pics from 2013 of of bears, wolves, white-tailed deer, moose, foxes and snowshoe hares, as well as a few shots of birds like jays, sparrows, crows and even a hawk. No shots in 2013 of cats, even though lynx are common. Bobcats are rare but there, and while cougars are present, there are not many. And that’s an understatement.

Using these cameras is a lot of fun and provides us with valuable information, such as reproductive data (are the elk cows producing offspring [yes they are!])? and relative abundance of predators.

The biggest pack of wolves we recorded in 2013 was 7 – mostly, the wolves were either alone, or with another adult.

I’d also like to say that the native Ontario elk – the eastern elk sub-species – which recent research suggests was not really a sub-species at all – is extinct (so if we accept the eastern elk wasn’t a sub-species, elk were merely ‘extirpated’ from Ontario). The re-introduced elk have not been recognized by the province as a species at risk. Total elk population in Ontario, all from re-introduction efforts, is about 1,000. Some have been here (mostly in the Sudbury area) since 1932.

When I summarize the data from 2013 Lake of the Woods release site (soon), I’ll post it, and provide some more commentary.

  1. randy mccune said:

    Critter cams are great, just like trapping minus the skinning and stretching. Only issue I have is the trail cams are really lousy. I make a living with a camera and have done so for over 40 years, never seem to have an issue. Why can’t they make a trail cam that doesn’t fail after a couple months hanging on a tree. I’ve got 4 units in a drawer that don’t work anymore. Got one hanging on a tree now that missed a great bobcat walking past the trail cam, one of the biggest tracks i’ve seen in a long time. Only image is my sad looking carcass starring at the track. Off topic. We are having a brutal winter as I know you are. 3 feet of soft, deep snow and critters can’t move. One of my neighbors brought down a big round bale of hay to help the deer during this tough time. It was there about 3 days and was gone. No question the DNR enforced their feeding ban and had it removed. Probably even fined the guy. Starvation makes it easier for them to count the dead deer in the spring during the population surveys. Just saying

  2. We’ve had issues with them as well. Sometimes it’s a card formatting problem, sometimes it’s a ‘sensitivity’ issue – thousands of photos of waving vegetation. Yesterday it got to +5 C, but it’s freezing again today. I’m supposed to be interviewed on the radio (CBC Thunder Bay) this week about deer feeding – at least that was the plan last week. I’m OK with deer feeding (supported it for a number of years as an emergency measure when we had few deer), but this year it wasn’t a great idea, as I think it would have been mainly a dinner bell for the wolves. After this winter, both deer and wolf numbers will be down considerably.

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