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Scientists seek citizens to help with camera trap survey of N.C. wildlife

North Carolina officials and scientists are enlisting citizens in an effort to learn more about the state’s wildlife and natural environment.

North Carolina’s Candid Critters, a new citizen science project organized by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences and North Carolina State University, will distribute camera traps to participating state residents via public libraries starting in December.

Participants will be able to set up the devices at and around their residential area to capture photos of local wildlife and upload them to an online database. 

Roland Kays, project director and head of the Biodiversity Research Lab at the Museum of Natural Sciences, said the goal is to have 20,000 to 30,000 active sites over the next three years, which would make it the world's largest camera trap survey. 

“If it’s just scientists running the cameras, we’re limited as to how many we can run and what area we can cover,” he said. “Working with citizen scientists lets us survey over a much bigger area, so we can get a statewide picture of what’s going on.”

Kays said his team is trying to compile a representative survey of all species in the state, but are specifically interested in the decline of the red wolves, the expansion of the elk population and the relationship between the breeding patterns of coyotes and deer.

“There’s skunks, there’s chipmunks, there’s black bears — all sorts of species that will provide interesting questions we can ask over the next three years,” Kays said.

The North Carolina groups are collaborating with the Smithsonian Institution, which is implementing a camera trap study in the areas around Washington D.C.

The photos will be stored online and in a digital repository in Washington D.C. run by the Smithsonian, said Project Coordinator Arielle Parsons.

Parsons said the photos stored in the online repository, called eMammal, are the most important part of the collaboration.

“They actually become museum specimens, and they get stored there forever," she said.

Maria Palamar, the Wildlife Veterinarian at the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, said she hopes participants will benefit from the educational aspect of the project. 

“For me, the science is the cherry on the top here,” Palamar said. “The beauty of this project is the opportunity to get children, adults, hunters and everyone else talking to each other, sharing these images and understanding the natural world surrounding them.”

Palamar said she plans to see if her two young children are interested in setting up a few cameras themselves.

“I have the opportunity to get involved, as a mother, and to volunteer and bring my own camera to the project," she said. "I’ll learn how and where to place it, and I might bring my kids along with me,” 

@jared_webby

state@dailytarheel.com

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