Pest surveillance and reporting will become more efficient when a new monitoring tool hits the ground. The Department of Conservation (DOC) has signed a contract with Lincoln Agritech Ltd to develop an automated sensor known as the ‘PAWS® pest identification sensor pad’ that will detect and identify pests reinvading islands and mainland sanctuaries where possums, stoats and rats have previously been eradicated.
Achieving New Zealand’s goal of being ‘Predator Free by 2050’ requires cost-effective and efficient predator control tools in order to scale up sustainable predator control activity across the country. The Government has allocated $2.8 million over four years to DOC to fund the research and development of new and innovative solutions. Recipients of this funding include Lincoln Agritech and their collaborators, Boffa Miskell Ltd and Red Fern Solutions Ltd.
The automated PAWS® sensor is able to identify pests such as mice, rats, mustelids and possums, and differentiate these from native species. The results are transmitted (via wifi, telemetry or other means) to a DOC office enabling managers to rapidly respond.
Andrew Baucke (DOC Operations Manager, Auckland) says, “The PAWS® pest identification sensor pad will reduce our surveillance workload significantly and give us a far quicker response time for detecting reinvasion by pests. Traditionally, a lot of labour goes into regularly checking traps and tracking tunnels on islands to detect pest invasions and some of our pest-free islands are not visited as often as we would like. The PAWS® device has the potential to improve both the efficiency and effectiveness of surveillance and decrease our response times. That’s going to increase our confidence, save time and effort and has to be a great investment in island biosecurity.”
Dean Williamson, Lincoln Agritech Business Development Manager, continues “The focus for 2018 will be making sure we get the development fine-tuned before we build prototypes. In 2019-2020 we will concentrate on field trials and data collection to further refine the classifier and prove environmental robustness. This will be followed by large scale field trials in 2021 – 2022, and DOC will test these pre-production units 2022-2023.
Dr Helen Blackie at Boffa Miskell Ltd is leading the PAWS® sensor trials. Helen has been involved in the concept since its inception, having recognised the need for improved forms of animal surveillance and reporting. The PAWS® unit represents a new generation of technologies for wildlife management, and allows people to monitor species in real-time in natural habitats. Future enhancements of the technology are envisaged, such as building units with trapping functions that trigger the trap when specific species are detected.
For conservation managers, having a variety of detection devices under development eliminates their reliance on only one approach. As the Predator Free strategy gains traction the automated pest detection features encapsulated by PAWS® technology will be part of the solution to removing unwanted pest species from New Zealand.
Image: PAWS® pest identification sensor pad detects and identifies animal species, such as an Australian brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula). Photo taken by Boffa Miskell.