Big BCI Day: Part I – Traps

Up at 5am to fix some quick electronics for the firefly costumes. Print off Posters for peter’s performance, hang them up. Grab my gear and hike to boat to hopefully catch the 7:15 for BCI.


Meet Daan there who takes me on a whirlwind tour of the island. First I shadow her methods in her Forestry Management research. She sets up camera traps all over the island jungle to survey the wildlife rooting around. This requires lots of maintenance for the cameras as well as shifting and replacing cameras to catch activity in new spots. Also it takes a shit ton of batteries.

I try to learn about all the quirky and practical problems of doing what, in principle, seems to be a very straightforward task: Put cameras in jungle.


One of the biggest parts seems to be finding a good placement. You need a correctly sized tree to attach onto first of all. Next Daan tries to get into the mind of the animal. She walks around the chosen tree and searches for pathways that an animal might take when walking by. Then she orients the camera correspondingly so that it correctly sets off the motion trigger. She can put the camera into a test mode where she then physically crawls (or in this case, sort of apes around) in front of the camera in order to test the camera’s range.


Concerning things that can go wrong with the cameras are mostly on the electronic end. These camera traps seem to have few problems with the lenses, or being broken into. When planting cameras in more publicly accessible areas she does need to put unbearably heavy locks onto the cameras to stop poachers from stealing them, but other than that physically the cameras are quite solid devices.

Electronically, there are many problems. They are often running out of energy at different rates which screws up her schedule. The displays get corroded by the moisture, and sometimes the motion trigger goes berserk and fills the card with meaningless photos.


Our planned route today includes stops at several cameras around the island, the careful collection of a moth that had succumbed to a crazy tentacle fungus, and a stop at the remains of one of the largest trees in the world.

We have a lovely picnic under the moth’s H.R. Giger – styled remains. Sitting quietly in the forest we hear growingly braver stirrings as the creatures adjust to our presence. Different animals around us which remain unseen stir about more frequently in their quests for food, sex, and comfort. The forest awakes around us in this midday-hour culminating in a massive roaring of the howler monkeys. The howling signifies a sort of orgasmic release which then silences the building cacophony.

Following her GPS back in a loop we stopped by a disheveled clear patch in the forest. Limbs were strewn about in this disaster zone, and the eerily cleared space looming above was penetrated by a sharp, snapped obelisk.

Until two weeks ago there stood the island’s famous “Big Tree.” The massive kapok tree held a 13 meter diameter supporting massive, spreading limbs covering all of the nearby jungle. As the Smithsonian noted, “This was by far the largest crown known on the planet for a tree with a single stem.”

I had been to BCI last year when it was still standing, but Peter and I got a bit lost walking around and never found it. It’s fun to get to clamber about parts of the tree that were just previously inaccessible. Gravity and decay brought them down to sate our curiosity.