Canopy Camera Trap for Indonesian Lizards

A colleague here in Panama, Scott Trageser, who runs

has an interesting challenge. There’s some kind of, thought to be extinct, rare monitor lizard that lives in the canopy in trees high up in indonesia. He is part of a group that wants to put camera traps up in the canopy to find these lizards, but currently they are just climbing, setting up the trap, and then climbing back up to retrieve it. It’s super tough and dangerous and so they don’t want to do that anymore.

He’s got three tools that he wants to somehow macguyver together

  1. Tiny camera traps!
    look at this cutey! @hpy @alex9000 have yall seen these? According to scott, they are currently discontinued!
    But it’s very small and lightweight

  2. Drone - Standard DJI Mavic 2 Pro. Can lift the camera with its batteries fine

  3. remote control pin

  4. (Bonus) Slap bracelet Technology

    i have been making big strong slap bracelets to hold camera traps on trees. This holds a much heavier camera trap.

Right now he says his drone can carry the remote control pin, and the camera trap fine. He wants to be able to fly to a little branch, set a camera trap on top of a (mostly) horizontal limb. Have it be able to stay there a couple of weeks. and then be able to take it down.

Scott’s current plan is the camera would be connected to an open slap bracelet and the drone. The drone sets it on the branch, triggers the slap bracelet, and then a long pull string with a weight is dropped to pull the camera down later. I said this would involve too many difficult maneuvers and luck to be reliable. but there’s almost a functional idea in here. Anyone got good thoughts?


Thanks @hikinghack this McGyver idea is so cool! And no, I didn’t know about these bite-sized cameras. I wonder if we could crack one open to see how the interior is designed… potentially to inform a future open source hardware camera trap…

Sorry no direct solution but some clarifying questions:

  1. How well do these drones negotiate the dense foliage in a rainforest??
  2. Do they have to fly the drones to avoid dense areas?
  3. If the answer to 2 is yes, does that mean their drone-deployed camera trap deployments will be biased in canopy areas with less cover?
  4. If so, how does this relate to where the lizards like to hang out? For example, if these lizards like to be in heavily shielded, covered places that the drones can’t get near, then the camera traps simply won’t be deployed in the right places to see them?

I mean, I haven’t done rainforest field work in years (other than that one camera trapping evening during the Panama Gathering thanks to you!), but I think my understanding of rainforest foliage is still accurate haha… :rofl:

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They said they wanted on top of horizontal branches pointing in towards the trunk. hahahah the more i discuss this, the more im agreeing with myself that this is all wayyyy wayyy too difficult for a consumer level drone setup (or most drone setups)


Wow love the slap bracelet idea! We tried something like this but with hose clamps over rooftop vent pipes for the project but it became clear to us that even with a large hose clamp and no wind it was quite difficult to maneuver them correctly. Two different ideas were prototyped and they both worked but didn’t end up being practical. The available drones have better stability now and the slap bracelets are probably more forgiving with precision than the hose clamps but the foliage and differing tree geometry present additional challenges. How tall are these trees? No chance of using a very long telescoping pole? You can get fairly light-weight telescoping aluminum flag poles and if you put a thinner telescoping pole on top you might be able to get some good height.

As a grabbing mechanism here’s a weird idea: What if you use a shape memory alloy. Imagine a small forest of long thick’ish nitinol wire sticking out from the back of the camera. Each of them are electrically connected at each end with wire so their shape can be actuated by applying electricity and heating them up. Train them to be perfectly straight at high temperature and curled in on themselves at room temperature (forest temeprature). Apply current before installation to straighten them, stick them near a branch and stop applying current and they all curl up and hopefully grab something. They can be actuated from the battery pack of the camera to trigger release assuming wireless control. You can also get nitinol in sheets so an alternative design would basically be an electrically controlled slap bracelet.

Here’s an example of something similar where the heat is applied with a hair dryer instead of electrically. The effect shown here is not as great as what can be achieved with nitinol especially with electrical heating:


I just built a “throw it against the tree” slap bracelet camera trap mount last week that might fit the bill – we spent some time at hacker night throwing it at eachother and watching it hug-and-film. It was shockingly robust. I was hoping to share a photo of it (or even better, some footage from it), but I slapped it onto Eli’s shin at some point, and he walked off and I haven’t seen it for a week. Will send photos tomorrow hopefully, once I can recover it from his lab.



Hi All

another idea would be to get up there do it yourself using a
“Canopy Raft”

I know this is not the approach you all discuss here but thought because you are lookingn for solutions to monitor in the canopy that this genius research project and tool merits mention - maybe sparks some new dimension to the ideas elaborated…


Hey everyone, thanks for all the ideas! @hikinghack put us onto this forum and we’re hopeful we can collaborate with someone here to finish this design.

We believe the drone will be able to navigate the canopy well enough and we have another tech organization that is willing to create a “carapace” for the drone that protects the rotors to avoid damage upon undergrowth collisions.

I (naively?) think we just need to 3D print a mounting bracket to affix the snap bracelets to the bottom of the camera trap and figure out how to keep the system from spinning around while airborne hanging from the drone.

Removing the devices will be tricky but we anticipate having braided fishing line attached to the camera trap that we can then yank to dislodge the entire mount from the branch and then catch the trap with a large fishing net held by our team.

Any thoughts for designing the mounting bracket and keeping the trap immobilized while be carried?

Thanks in advance!


Awesome welcome to the forum Scott!!