Dramatic and Striking Images of Wildlife Captured in Arctic Camera Trap Photos

Wildlife Conservation Society photographs show energy development may “subsidize” predators of migratory birds in Arctic Alaska

NEW YORK (October 26, 2011)—The Wildlife Conservation Society today released camera-trap photographs of “nest predators” (animals that prey upon the eggs and young of nesting birds) caught in the act of raiding nests in the Alaskan Arctic. The photos show – sometimes graphically – how the ground-nesting birds may be impacted by predators that benefit from human influence associated with energy development activity.

 The photographs were collected during the summers of 2010 and 2011 as part of WCS’s ongoing studies in the region looking at the ecological footprint of energy development and how it may affect breeding birds that migrate each year to the region to nest during the brief arctic summers.  

The camera traps were set up to determine the identity of predators raiding nests near both the Prudhoe Bay oil field and at a remote undeveloped area near the Ikpikpuk River in the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska (NPR-A). In this way, the scientists hoped to learn whether human-subsidized predators (those benefitting from human activity and energy development such as Arctic fox, ravens, and glaucous gulls) were more commonly raiding the nests of birds in the oilfields as compared to remote areas.

WCS Scientist Joe Liebezeit said, “The presence of people and structures enable these animals to live in areas that otherwise would not be preferred or suitable habitat, or to do so in greater numbers than would normally be the case. As a result, they have more access to the nests of migratory birds and can exploit a vulnerable food source.”

Among the advantages afforded the subsidized nest raiders near energy development sites are opportunities to nest and den in, on, or under human-made structures. Arctic foxes, for example, den in culverts and under buildings in the oil fields—taking advantage of new-found homes that provide protective shelter for themselves and their young. Ravens, which rarely nest in the Arctic because of the scarcity of nesting sites on the treeless tundra, opportunistically nest on towers, eaves of buildings, and other structures across the transformed landscape. These “generalist” species also benefit by consuming the garbage, road kills, and other sources of food brought by human activity.

Each year, an international assemblage of migratory birds numbering in the millions flies to Alaska’s Arctic to breed and rear young. WCS scientists recently released findings that compared nest survivorship (production of young) and other nesting patterns in the human-impacted Prudhoe Bay region with a site in the remote and undeveloped Teshekpuk Lake area of the NPR-A located 150 miles to the west. Results showed that, for some species, survivorship and overall nest densities were higher at the undeveloped Teshekpuk site.

“Pictures are worth a thousand words and these photos speak volumes regarding the changing conditions that threaten migratory birds coming to the Arctic to breed,” said WCS North America Program Director Jodi Hilty.  “The photos are also a reminder of the value of undeveloped areas in the Arctic to birds from all over the world.”

Currently, the Bureau of Land Management is evaluating how best to balance wildlife protection and future energy development in the NPR-A. WCS has been engaged in the western Arctic for 10 years, identifying where wildlife protection would be most effective in the NPR-A in advance of development.  Determining which species are the most prevalent nest predators, as only these cameras can do, will be another vital piece of information that will help inform BLM’s decision-making process.

Scott Smith: (1-718-220-3698; ssmith@wcs.org)
Stephen Sautner: (1-718-220 3682; ssautner@wcs.org)  

The Wildlife Conservation Society saves wildlife and wild places worldwide.  We do so through science, global conservation, education and the management of the world's largest system of urban wildlife parks, led by the flagship Bronx Zoo.  Together these activities change attitudes towards nature and help people imagine wildlife and humans living in harmony. WCS is committed to this mission because it is essential to the integrity of life on Earth.

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