discussion / Camera Traps  / 29 October 2017

Solutions to Camera Trap Theft?

The issue of camera trap theft has plagued many of us for years. Our research team has been trying to find innovative solutions to this problem for a while now. I wrote a short story on our plight here https://theconversation.com/how-to-stop-the-thieves-when-all-we-want-to-capture-is-wildlife-in-action-73855.

Some time ago we opened a survey monkey survey to collect specific details on theft and vandalism https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/LCZZHB5 . I have threatened to close this survey for some time but have not had time to analyse the results from over 400 people globally so at this point it is still open. We hope to present these results to Industry to try and encourage better security for our data, and publish the data. 

One option we are looking at is the incorporation of technology into camera traps to help locate stolen devices. I am always keen to hear what ideas other people are developing in this field, so if you have any great ideas to prevent theft, or have ideas for different technolgy that we can consider, please reply or email me direct at [email protected].



Dear Paul,

one of the suitable solution would be either to install low-cost low-power trackers into existing camera devices or for example use the open-source camera units with built in Lora communication + GPS. Example of a device with similar technical capabilities is the Arribada PMP we have build for them and is now in Antarctica: https://github.com/IRNAS/arribada-pmp

This gives you a number of advantages:
- highly customizable camera
- can process images on the device
- send information via Lora network
- location can be provided via triangulation or GPS

The only downside is that you need to have a Gateway device running within 10km of your device in a reasonably flat bush area or somewhat closer in thick jungle. These Gateways can be around 200EUR, so that is not too bad. Having such a connection it also gives you real time sensor data from the camera, so you can know how many photos were taken and so, but the link is to slow to send images in real time.


Sorry for being so late to the conversation.

Has anyone tried using one of these ?  The idea would be to have the camera trap automatically upload all images to a hidden computer (maybe up in a tree somewhere).  A thief taking/destroying the camera would not realise the images already reside somewhere else.  You still lose the camera, but maybe you still get some data.



A few years ago this solution would have been thought of as nuts.

Have another cheap camera pointing at the expensive camera.

How it would work is like this.

The expensive camera or its housing detects it is being tampered with (tilt detector attached to a microcontroller).  The microcontroller is also attached to a small short range radio (NRF24L01).  This thing will be asleep all the time and use almost no power, until it is tilted. BOM (bill of materials) less than $10.

The cheap camera is so small it can mostly be buried underground. That is also controlled from a microcontroller, and that too has a small radio. However this radio needs to be listening all the time - BOM will go up with a bigger battery.  I've had luck with these cheap 'key fob' 808 cameras, they record video onto their own sd card. BOM probably about $30-40.

Now this wont stop someone stealing the cams, but might lead to an arrest. The argument about sticking a GPS in the housing is not convincing for me, a GPS is a very specific type of pcb usually featuring an easily identifyable antenna - so can just be ripped out.  If it were me it would be the first thing I'd look for.

I've used cheap chinese arduino pro-minis and 808 style cams for a while, and while its nice to stick PIRs etc on them to detect intruders etc, the result is usually an empty battery and an sd card full of spider or ant head shots.

If you wanted to scare the wrong-doers off at the moment of theft, then it would be possible to play an audio warning, or shout 'you are now being filmed' or replay the crackle of a walkie-talkie (search : arduino mp3 player). The expensive camera's transmitting radio signal could be picked up by more than one device you see? The noise could be coming from the left, the cam in the ground could be on the right.  These simple radios can have a range of 50+ metres, if you pick the right ones. There are other RF options, as well as GSM dialers of course.

If all this sounds a bit complex, with some work and thought these counter measures could be set and forget "black box devices".

For the 808s I normally go through links on the chucklohr website, the absolute oracle on 808s. My last purchase were Mate 808 1080P "spy" cameras, with a long camera cable, they do away with the whole plastic housing and just give you the board with components.  I ordered from their website in '17, but it seems they are all over the place on ebay ATM.

I tried the SQ11s, but they run awful hot - but for say, 2 minutes of video they work just fine - but minute, I had one working in a hat - thats how I know how hot they can get.

As for "Interface with the 808" I take this to mean 2 things :

a) how do you intercept the video signal to, say, send something to an email address

 - you don't, well at least I couldn't, you have to physically go and get the sd card out

b) how do you turn it on an off?

 - I unashamedly used this idea from Gordon Williams of Espruino fame :


You'll notice the clever hack to fire up the cam using 2 i/o pins simultaneously.

Now the cam I mentioned above, like them all, has a config text file, so here you set the image size, whether it starts filming when turned on - with some other basic settings such as date/time etc.

There are lots of gotchas with this, not least of which is when reset that that text file is overwritten with some (sane) defaults, which may not be the default you want.

I found the Mate 808 config did most things, all I had to do was turn the cam on and off - and I got this working with an Arduino pro mini 3.3v.

So the "smarts" can be on an Arduino, read sensors, if/else, film for 30 seconds, 60 seconds, dont film and so on - send an alert etc.

I toyed with the idea of "potting" the cam and Arduino in resin to suit the environment, but as I said, the greater part of it could be buried - just means breaking out the microphone, to say, the same length as the extended camera cable. 

The drawback with PIRs I found was all the false positives, had better luck with these small microwave "radar sensors" - Andreas did a fine recap on what was available about 2 years ago.