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Published: 2004-09-16 00:00:00

A cunning trap that will catch “smart pests” for years without needing any attention could add another tool to the biosecurity toolbox.

This week’s Environment Waikato Biosecurity Committee meeting heard that a prototype for the Scentinel Bait Dispenser was being trialled by Waikato University with funding from Environment Waikato, Animal Health Board, Environment BoP, a private trust and the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology. The prototype has been field tested near Tokoroa earlier this year with the help of pest control company Epro Ltd.

The Scentinel targets chosen species by a selective trigger and includes a camera which records what animals visit. It releases an aerosol puff of lure suited to the pest and produces the bait at a critical moment, while protecting non-target species such as birds. The trap is weather proof and runs 24 hours a day for months, costing the same or less than shorter effect aerial operations.

Dr Carolyn King told the meeting that animals were very intelligent and the trap was designed as a “smart device for a smart animal”. Because the trap was weighted it was not used by mice which would use the bait too quickly. Wild mustelids (ferrets, stoats and weasels) were quick to learn from experience, and roamed over a wide area.

“The ferrets were like criminals casing the joint. They would visit two or three times before they went in.”

It was cost efficient, long term and labour saving and provided more information for post control monitoring, but was still expensive to construct.

The key to improvement was developing an appropriate lure and bait to overcome the behaviour of mustelids, she said. Any trapping or poisoning operation had only a short period to attract the animals’ attention and entice them to eat the bait.

The ferret study will be repeated next year using an improved version of the trap. Work was also being done to overcome the problems of long-life bait, she said.