Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Ferret smell could help protect New Zealand birds

3 January 2017

Researchers in New Zealand say that the stench of ferrets could be a useful tool to protect the country's birds, as the smell helps to attract non-native predators.

An experiment at a farm in the northern Hawke's Bay region found that lacing rabbit meat with ferret odour led to boom in the number of stoats, rats and hedgehogs detected at monitored sites, the New Zealand Herald reports. The creatures are all considered pests because of the damage they can do native flora and fauna.

"There were very dramatic increases, both in the time the animals spent around the odour and also in the number of detections," Dr Patrick Garvey of Landcare Research tells the paper. "We were told that if we could increase detection or trapping rates by 50%, we'd be doing amazingly well - and we got a 300% increase in stoat detections over the month."

The fact that ferrets are apex predators doesn't seem to put off creatures lower down the food chain, as getting a whiff of a potential threat could help them to stay safe. Dr Garvey likens it to humans smelling smoke: "Instead of running away from it, we'll investigate the source and will try to find out more about it to make things safer for us," he says.

In 2016, New Zealand's government set a target of wiping out non-native predators by 2050 in order to protect the country's wildlife, particularly its birds. Ferret odour isn't the only smelly tool being trialled as part of the efforts. Another company has been testing the effectiveness of traps that use a particularly potent substance to attract stoats - an oil made from the animals' anal glands.


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