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Landcare Research

Controlling Vertebrate Pests in New Zealand

Prize: $1,000
Contest Closed: Dec-08-14

The Challenge:

A client is seeking an ingredient that will help with controlling vertebrate pests in New Zealand including brushtail possums, rabbits, and ship rats. The compound will encourage these pests (i.e. could be "addictive") to eat baits and therefore must be able to be included in the formulation of cereal-based baits that are used for pest control.

The vertebrates that are now pests in New Zealand were introduced either for food, to start a fur trade, or by accident. Unfortunately these species have now spread over much of New Zealand and to such high numbers that they now have significant impacts on agricultural and conservation values. Possums cause damage to pine plantations, native forest canopies, flowers and fruits, and eat birds’ eggs and fledglings. Rats predate on threatened bird species, and rabbits compete with livestock for grass. More than $100 million is spent annually controlling these pests.

In New Zealand there are few if any natural predators so their numbers have to be managed by using traps and poisons. Although recent advances in control technologies enable control operations to reduce local populations by 90+%, the last 5-10% reduction is very difficult to achieve because the survivors are either wary of the baits or traps used, or they have enough natural foods to eat in the wild and therefore less interested in any artificial foods used. The pests will eat some bait: the challenge is to get them to really want to eat more!

Other desirable features are: increases desire to seek more bate after 2-3 exposures, should be more attractive than natural foods, easily incorporated into a cereal-based bait, low cost (10-20c per 12g bait), and should be available for licensing or purchase.

Client is not interested in ingredients that are toxic at doses likely to be used, or in sweetening agents.