Wildlife Cameras Are Accidentally Capturing Humans Behaving Badly

Scientists face an ethical dilemma over what to do with their ‘human bycatch’

James Dinneen
OneZero
Published in
6 min readNov 13, 2019

--

Photo illustration: OneZero

ToTo study wildlife, Dr. Nyeema Harris, an assistant professor in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department at the University of Michigan, uses camera traps — remotely triggered cameras that take pictures when they detect movement and body heat. Harris, a wildlife biologist, is not typically interested in humans, but sometimes they still end up in her photographs.

Between 2016 and 2018, Harris led the first published camera trap survey ever conducted in Burkina Faso and Niger, originally conceived to focus on the critically endangered West African lion. But Harris ended up capturing so much human activity that she expanded the focus of her study to include how humans were using the area. Research on human activity in the wildlife preserve had typically relied on humans reporting their own actions, but with the cameras, Harris could see what they were actually doing. “The data emerged to be a really interesting story that I felt compelled to tell,” Harris says.

Even in studies conducted in remote nature reserves, meant to capture wildlife at its wildest, people showed up.

--

--

James Dinneen
OneZero

Writing on science/environment/misc. North East South West https://jamesdinneen.wordpress.com/ Twitter: @jamesNESW