Our camera trap Project at Rancho Piro

The Rancho’s property is located close to the only road leading to Corcovado National Park (CNP), 8km away, and is currently owned and managed by Miguel Sanchez. The property is a family legacy, passing among  generations of the Sanchez members, some of the first inhabitants of the Peninsula arriving from Panama. Historically, the Sanchez family owned great extensions of the land extending Corcovado National Park to Puerto Jimenez; currently, Miguel´s is one of the three properties still owed by the family, comprising 28 hectares. In an area where research, strict conservation, ecotourism, foreign investment and ownership are the norm and the motor of the economy; Miguel is one of the few locals owning, working, and managing his property in a traditional way. Despite his traditional methods, Miguel has become a reference of sustainability and conservation for the area, adapting his livelihood and behaviour to the times. Currently, his main livelihood comes from horses, part of his land is dedicated to them including pastures with tall grasses; there is also small portions of land for food production, animal and farm buildings, the house and some cabins used for hosting locals and foreigners, all handmade from local resources. The rest of the property includes secondary forests and approximately 10 hectares of primary forest, part of the largest private wildlife refuges in the country (RNVSO, Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre de Osa) and conserved for life. There is a river crossing the property that provides water and a small solar panel providing the only light available at Rancho Piro. The main cooking is made in a traditional wood-fired kitchen, in addition to a gas stove as a back-up. Miguel represents a perfect example of “modern-traditional” living, using all available resources in a sustainable way. From feeding the chickens or fertilizing the crops to bringing himself or his horses to health, Miguel´s uses the forest to his advantage; but also, knows and understands the importance of using resources sustainably and conserving them for future generations. His invaluable knowledge of the area´s history, the animals, ethnobotanics, or arts and crafts, together with physical, ecological, and sustainability characteristics of Rancho Piro, represent perfect conditions for a DANTA project.

DANTA collaboration with Rancho Piro and Miguel Sanchez started 10 years ago, when the organization first started working at the Osa Peninsula and horse riding became one of the fun activities included in the student´s field courses. Since then, DANTA and Rancho Piro have collaborated in many other activities designed to bring local experience, knowledge, and living closer to students; highlighting the efforts of local community members towards conservation. Last year, during one of our DANTA activities and leaded by Miguel Sanchez knowledge, curiosity, and ideas, we designed a shared project using camera traps and integrated into DANTAs filed courses to evaluate the presence and behaviour of ground terrestrial mammals in different habitats at Rancho Piro. The investigation has three main objectives 1) to assess the richness of ground vertebrate species in Rancho Piro, 2) to evaluate differences on richness in different habitats, 3) to observe and determine species, particularly at selected locations.  The goal is to shed some light to some of Miguel´s questions, for example, what animals visit or inhabit his property? What are the differences between pasture and forest, primary and secondary, or close to the river? Are these differences the result of his livelihood, structures, etc. or are they related to their ecology? or What are animals, particularly specific taxa, doing in his property, passing by, foraging, marking? Finding answers to these questions will help building baseline data for this area and further understand environmental and anthropogenic impacts on local biodiversity. Moreover, it will help Miguel manage his land more efficiently and sustainable, expanding his knowledge of the land and the impacts and connections between nature and his livelihood.

The first phase of the project is already underway, collecting data with 4 camera traps placed and moved to different locations (habitat) across Rancho Piro, approximately every 30  days. The cameras monitor 24h per day, triggered by motion, and recording videos of 15 sec to maximize the chances to detect presence while capturing a range of behaviors. During 2019 DANTA´s summer course, students from the Methods in Primate Behavior and Conservation course led by Dr. Kimberly Dingess and assistant Manuel Sanchez Mendoza (expert naturalist, taxonomist, ecologist, photographer, and Miguel´s son) established the first the cameras in their selected locations, mainly secondary and primary forest sites. Manuel Sanchez and the family at large are fully integrated in this field effort, in charge of all logistics, selecting locations, checking and maintaining camera traps and collecting and storing data, until the 2019-2020 DANTA winter courses arrive. Then, the second phase of the project will start.

Students from DANTA´s Wildlife Conservation and Sustainability winter course led by Beatriz Lopez Gutierrez and assisted by Manuel Sanchez will begging data managing of videos collected over the last 6 months. As part of the course, which also includes a workshop to identify local terrestrial mammals and birds, students will have some training on camera trap image identification and management with some hours allocated to extract data (i.e. species, date, time, behavior) from the videos. At the end of the course students will have to do a group presentation describing summarizing the results so far to the Sanchez Family and other local stakeholders and visitors.

This management and collection strategy will continue, until the summer DANTA courses are concluded, representing a year collection period. At this point, a meeting with Rancho Piro and DANTA course instructors will be held to discuss further strategies to be applied with the help of students enrolled in future DANTA courses:

  • Stop data collection, carry out statistical analysis, and produce a scientific publication. Potential analytical procedures include rarefaction analysis to evaluate relationships between the sampling effort and species richness; Shannon Wiener Index, Jaccard´s, Sorensen´s Coefficients, or Bray–Curtis Index to compare diversity and similarity/dissimilarity, together with PERMANOVA, or ANOSIN and Principal Components Analysis to test for differences between sites, habitats, or any other factor. Satellite remote sensing will be used to identify and evaluate physical environmental/anthropogenic variables; using Spearman correlations or a General Linear Model to evaluate relationships between those variables and species richness.
  • Carry on with data collection to build a larger and more representative sample across the temporal and spatial scale.
  • Both carry on with data collection and analytical and publication procedures.

Future strategies can´t be forecast, they will depend on several logistical aspects of the project. For example, do the Sanchez family still agree and are happy to manage most of the logistical aspects of the field work? Is the duration of the DANTA courses or the effort from students enough to manage the data produced by a continuous project? or Is the data collected enough to produce accurate results and/or a peer review publication?

Regardless of the final strategy, its academic or ecological importance, this DANTA project includes basic principles of community-based natural resource management and conservation by which community groups and members are fully included, aware, and participating in procedures and activities such as research design, data collection and management, or decision making. This is one of cornerstones for long-lasting biological conservation, fully supported by DANTA. Come and help us, be part of it.

Beatriz Lopez Gutierrez, University of Florida

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