In Part I of the tortoise cam blog series, we heard about some of the technical aspects of getting the cams up and running from Dr. James Gibbs of SUNY-ESF and Sean Burnett of Wildlife Intel. In the second and final installment, they share some funny moments and discuss the future of the project.
How did the tortoises react to having the cameras installed in their pens (if at all)?
James: Tortoises are “neophilic” — curious about new things in their environment — and I was surprised by how much interest they took in this project. The tortoises were fascinated with the spherical camera lenses, inspecting them at length early in the installation process. They may have thought the lenses were large gleaming eyes, or perhaps something moist and glistening to eat or drink...or maybe it was just something new and different amongst the cactus and lava. This further confirmed to me that these are very intelligent animals in the context of what is important to them — especially scoping out their habitat and any changes within it.
Sean: Even now, almost a year later, they seem to want to get really close to the cameras, knock them around, and look into the lens.
Tell us about a particularly humorous moment during the project.
James: For me it was seeing my colleague Sean — who is the “brains” behind this project, and a master of solving all manner of high-tech digital technology issues — teetering back and forth in the top of a muyuyo tree over the tortoise pens while being swarmed by unhappy ants. Sean was reaching out with a long broom trying to guide an Ethernet cable over the tree so we could transmit the images from the cameras to satellite modem, and he looked like a mildly terrified monkey up there. I always enjoy this intersection of the high- and low-tech that is required to get things done in field situations, as well as the cheerfulness of someone like Sean in just doing what it takes to get things done.
Sean: At one point, James mentioned that the young tortoises — how do I say this politely — have a lot of learning to do. No sooner did he say that did we see one of the 3-year-olds walking around with a 5-foot stick stuck under the front of its shell. All s/he had to do was back up to get rid of it, but instead kept moving forward.
What do you hope people will take away from watching the tortoise cams?
James– I’ve had the good fortune to work with these wonderful animals for two decades, and yet still learn things from these cams! Tortoises are wary, smart creatures and the mere presence of humans affects their behavior. Not to ascribe human traits, but many seem quite “shy.” The cams are the first opportunity ever to see tortoises doing what they do without being altered by their intrinsic “shyness” around people. This is as true a view of natural tortoise behavior — as you will see.
How would you like to see the tortoise cam project evolve?
James– We’d love to put webcams into the tortoise egg incubators. This would allow people to watch the miracle of tortoises hatching from their eggs remotely, and would also allow Park staff to not disturb the eggs to check if they had hatched (they need to get the hatchlings out quickly, so they frequently need to pop the tops off the incubation boxes and check). Rarely does one get such a convergence of education and management value that this would provide.
I think there are other animal aggregations to share, like basking iguana, and someday we’d like to start transmitting images from wilderness areas where nobody can go. The tortoise wallows on the bottom of the Alcedo Crater will remain our dream. It can be done, but currently transmitting the data is very expensive.
Galapagos Conservancy thanks Dr. Jim Gallagher for his generosity in funding the purchase and installation of the webcams.
What do you think of the tortoise cam project? Leave a comment below!