Highly Targeted Non-Lethal Predator Control Approach using Intelligent Prey Decoys Equipped with Aversive Stimuli to Protect Endangered Species from Predation and Provide Data Insights

Kingsley, C., Nussear, K., King, M., and Jenkins, M.

Presented at the Wildlife Society 2020 Annual Conference (October 2020)

Approximately 42% of threatened or endangered species are at risk due to invasive species. Invasive species exacerbate threats on native species in a variety of ways, including habitat disruption, outcompeting for resources, causing or carrying disease, and notably, preying on native species. While a multifaceted approach involving the reduction of human subsidies to invasive species would help address the root of this issue, fusing the empirically established method of conditioned aversion with technological advancements in small form factor sensors, ruggedized electronics, and robotics, presents a novel opportunity to protect vulnerable species from unwanted predators in a targeted, non-lethal, non-toxic, and self-sustaining way. To this end, researchers and engineers completed a 6-month Phase I effort to demonstrate the feasibility of technology to detect, identify, and train targeted predators from preying on vulnerable species through intelligent decoy devices. These devices are designed to cue predators through natural predation cues (i.e., looks and smells like), detect and classify predator interaction through onboard sensor processing (i.e., matching sensor data to biologically-informed predator attack profiles), and deploy repeatable, flexible, non-lethal, predator-specific aversion stimuli which are randomized (i.e., by pattern, frequency, type) to reduce and/or mitigate habituation. Additionally, these devices provide the ability to collect device sensor data and provide researchers with novel insights into predator-prey relationships. The result from the Phase I effort is a ruggedized juvenile desert tortoise prototype that can classify notional raven and coyote predator profiles and deploy predator-specific combinations of light, sound, and electric shock. The next phase of this effort will involve testing these devices with coyotes and ravens in a controlled setting, refining the desert tortoise decoy, and expanding scope to target other predator-prey relationships, such as endangered bird species endemic to Hawaii threatened by nest predation by invasive species and farm chickens preyed on by protected bald eagles.

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