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Developing Target-Specific Baiting Methods for Feral Pigs in an Omnivore-Rich Community

  • Author(s): Bengsen, Andrew J.
  • Leung, Luke K.-P.
  • Lapidge, Steven J.
  • Gordon, Iain J.
  • et al.
Abstract

The risk of non-target species being harmed by pest management activities can be a major impediment to animal control being implemented. This problem is particularly acute in complex faunal communities, where the pest occurs with functionally-similar species. Here, we present a framework for developing target-specific pest management tools for complex communities that helps managers reduce the risk of non-target species impacts. We applied the framework to the problem of poison baiting for feral pig control in the tropical rainforests of north-eastern Australia, and identified several potential methods to reduce adverse baiting impacts on non-target species. We evaluated the target-specificity of different baits and bait presentation methods using camera traps and sandplots to monitor animal-bait interactions in the field. As predicted using the framework, making baits available only at night prevented bait take by diurnal species, and bait burial substantially reduced bait consumption by nonfossorial species. The illumination of bait sites also reduced the foraging intensity of small non-target mammals, without inhibiting bait take by feral pigs. Two putative auditory repellents for small mammals were ineffective. Temporal variation in bait take by pigs and other species was unpredictable, and we were unable to exploit seasonally-variable factors to further enhance targetspecificity. The use of a starch-rich vegetable bait, rather than an omnivore bait, prevented bait take by dingoes and improved bait take by feral pigs. The use of a light plastic container to cover this bait prevented bait take by small omnivores when an uncovered free-feed was also provided. This latter baiting method renders nocturnal distribution, bait burial, and site illumination unnecessary, and provides a simple, target-specific baiting protocol that will allow effective feral pig control in the region for the first time. Our field results demonstrate the usefulness of the framework in our study site. The framework is similarly suitable for developing target-specific methods for delivering other chemical or biological agents to wildlife or pest populations, or for developing other pest control tools such as traps. The framework awaits further evaluation in other complex faunal communities.

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