Tools to Market: developing new predator control technology
IntroductionThis programme is investing in the development of new predator control tools and technology to support Predator Free 2050.
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The Predator Free 2050 Tools to Market Programme invests in the accelerated development of new and existing predator control tools and technology by designers, scientists, inventors and engineers across New Zealand.
The purpose of the programme is to make smarter, safer and more effective tools and technology available to the Predator Free 2050 community within a one to five-year timeframe. We need new tools to achieve a Predator Free 2050 as the current toolbox for predator control and eradication is limited.
Tools to Market invests $1.4 million annually to support the full gamut of steps from proof of concept, through research and development, to prototype testing at a landscape scale with three main goals:
- Refine current predator control tools to make them safer and more cost-effective.
- Develop new and transformational tools to eradicate predators over large areas.
- Expand the range of predator control tools for different environments and situations.
Since launching, Tools to Market has completed three rounds of procurement, in 2017, 2019 and 2022. Projects underway or completed are outlined below.
Testing traps for animal welfare
This project is testing commercial predator traps against the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee’s (NAWAC) guidelines for animal welfare. The project aims to increase the range of traps available to trappers that meet the guidelines. As we work to protect our native species through trapping, it’s important that targeted predators such as rats, possums and stoats do not suffer unnecessarily. The DOC best practice guidance recommends traps that meet the animal welfare guidelines be used in preference to those that don’t.
The Tools to Market Programme is funding the testing of up to five different traps each year for three years from 2022 – a total of up to 15 traps. A panel of DOC technical experts selects traps for testing based on prioritisation principles and mandatory criteria. Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research is contracted to undertake the testing.
Test results are communicated with the trap manufacturers and published by Manaaki Whenua. The results identify aspects of traps that could be adjusted to make them more humane and effective. Manufacturers can submit a modified version of the trap to be considered for selection and retesting.
These Manaaki Whenua reports provide more detail on the methodology and pass requirements:
- Pen testing the kill efficacy of six predator traps, 2022/23 (PDF, 7,127K)
- Pen testing the kill efficacy of four predator traps, 2021/22 (PDF, 2,698K)
Research lead: Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research
Development of an aerially deployed biodegradable rat trap
DOC and Predator Free 2050 Ltd are co-funding the development of a biodegradable rat trap that can be distributed by air to contribute to a predator free Aotearoa.
The aerial micro-trap, which will be designed by conservation technology company Goodnature Ltd, stands to be revolutionary for predator control. The trap would be dropped by helicopter or drone to target ship and Norway rats across the landscape. After single use, it would then biodegrade into the environment. The aerial micro-trap has the potential to be a cost-effective solution for suppressing rats over large areas and in remote and difficult to access locations.
Government funding of $1.3 million over five years for the development of the micro-trap will come from DOC’s Tools to Market Programme and Predator Free 2050 Ltd’s Products to Projects fund, backed by the Provincial Growth Fund. Goodnature Ltd will also invest significantly in the project.
This project is due to be completed in December 2026.
Research lead: Goodnature Ltd
- Tiny biodegradable rat traps: can be dropped by drone, and leave no trace – Stuff article
- Flying, biodegradable rat traps – Goodnature Blog
- Aerial traps could be a game-changer to help restore nature - Media release by the Minister of Conservation
This project is working on a new pre-made stoat bait containing the toxin PAPP (para-aminopropiophenone) that is easy to use and can be applied from the air across large areas.
Pen trials to test the efficacy of the ready-made baits have been successful and field trials will now follow. PAPP is already in use for stoat and feral cat control. However it’s use is limited as it must be injected into balls of mincemeat and used within 48 hours in bait stations.
A new pre-made bait that can be aerially applied would make PAPP easier to use and enable it to be applied across a larger area. PAPP in this form would be useful in forests and alpine areas where the number of rats and mice is too low for stoats to be controlled with 1080 (which relies on stoats being poisoned when they eat the rodents).
This project is due to be completed in June 2026.
Research lead: DOC
Using drone technology to eradicate predators
The aim of this project is to harness the potential for drones to be a game-changer for pest control and eradication by investigating the use of an adapted heavy-lift drone to distribute toxic baits.
The project will test how the drone performs in a series of field trials, using a new light-weight bait spreader to apply non-toxic cereal baits over areas between 600 to 2000 ha. It will look at the feasibility and costs of drone use for predator control as well as potential savings in carbon emissions from current aerial methods.
The project is also a case study on the Airspace Integration Programme led by MBIE.
This project is due to be completed in September 2024.
Research lead: Envico Technologies (formerly Environment and Conservation Technologies, ECT)
Developing a long-life multi-species lure
This project seeks to develop long-life, non-toxic, non-perishable lure that can attract multiple predator species. The lure will be developed by testing the behavioural responses of seven target predators (including rats, mustelids and cats) to a range of different compounds, followed by a series of trials to determine which are the best performing lures for prototype long-lure technologies.
The best lures will be incorporated into encapsulation devices and tested in the field.
This project is due to be completed in August 2024.
Research lead: University of Canterbury
- Developing long life lures to target pests - Stuff article
- Pest control that makes scents - University of Canterbury
- New pest lures to protect nature - Media release by the Minister of Conservation
Using AI and Satellites for smart detection, identification and notification of predators
This project supports the further development and commercialisation of the PredaLINK system, which uses the combination of an AI camera and low earth orbit satellites to detect and identify predator interactions with traps and monitoring devices in the field and relay accurate and timely information to users.
Already proven in field trials, the PredaLINK system consists of:
- PredaCAM – portable battery-powered AI cameras with infra-red sensors for efficient power operations. With AI technology onboard, they will provide identification of target predators in real-time.
- PredaSAT – LoRa enabled low-cost two-way IoT satellite communication gateway for transmitting data from PredaCAM in remote environments.
- PredaCLOUD – user defined dashboard for collecting, processing and displaying data.
This project is due to be completed in February 2024.
Research lead: ASG Technologies
Precision aerial deployment
This project supports the research, development and commercialisation of a novel bait dispersal mechanism. Precision Bait System (PBS) will target and eradicate rats at low densities thereby preventing reinvasion and repopulation.
PBS will be capable of quickly delivering toxin in biodegradable bait pods with a high degree of precision and safety via an unmanned aerial vehicle or drone at a reduced cost.
The project includes both the development of the novel dispersal system and the biodegradable bait pods containing multiple baits that will break open on hitting the ground. Already tested in field trials, the approach has shown to be feasible, cost-effective and accurate.
This project is due to be completed in December 2026.
Research lead: Aerospread Ltd in conjunction with X-craft Enterprises Ltd
Thermal remote sensing camera
This project supports the redesign of the existing Cacophony thermal camera. A new low-cost, low-power, thermal remote sensing device will be delivered to market. This will detect and identify predators in the field, automatically upload recordings to a central AI-enabled cloud-based service, enabling automated processing of recordings, automated identification of predator species, and providing automated notifications to users.
Easily portable and able to be solar powered, it could be used to detect predators in remote or hard-to-access locations but be cheaper and use less power than current production models.
This project is due to be completed in June 2024.
Research lead: The Cacophony Project
- Thermal camera and AI monitoring platform developments - The Cacophony Project Blog
- 2040's product page
AI enabled Image processing platform
This project supports the further development of the existing Cacophony Artificial Intelligence (AI) enabled image processing monitoring platform. The existing platform already handles recordings from thermal cameras – this project will enable the platform to also handle still images and video captured using RGB, infra-red devices.
Users will be able to upload images from any trail camera, tag images with identified predators, and create reports. The platform will be designed to reduce time spent on image classification and improve AI identification of pests with reduced rate of false positives.
This project is due to be completed in September 2024.
Research lead: The Cacophony Project
Developing a new POAUKU multi-species lure
POAUKU lures are ceramic solid-block predator lures integrated with a long-life scent. They are robust, inedible, and environmentally friendly in nature. These lures have an advantage over conventional food-based lures, as they don’t deteriorate in the field or get consumed by non-target species.
This project supports the further development, testing and commercialisation of a new, promising scent POAUKU lure targeting rats, possums and mustelids. In earlier testing, this scent was shown to be highly attractive to predators but suffered from longevity issues. This project will focus on refining the lure formulation to be long-lasting, testing in the field for three months to determine attractiveness and commercialising the product.
This project is due to be completed in October 2023.
Research lead: Boffa Miskell Ltd
Automated pest detection – PAWS ® pest identification sensor pad
This project aimed to develop a low-cost automated device (a sensor pad) to detect and identify pests. Used to alert managers of an invasion at pest-free islands and mainland islands, this device relied on the development of algorithms to accurately identify mustelids (stoats, ferrets and weasels).
Working prototypes were trialled in the field as part of the project and the accuracy checked with cameras. DOC remained closely involved throughout the testing and pre-production process.
The project closed in March 2022 after it failed to meet accuracy requirements for the Tools to Market use case. However, the work resulted in a device and technology that has the unique ability to identify a pest interaction from background activity. Research leads will assess if any further development work continues on the device.
Research leads: Lincoln Agritech Ltd, Boffa Miskell and Red Fern Solutions.
- Lincoln Agritech PAWS pest identification sensor pad
- High tech sensors new weapon in war on pests - NZ Herald
Bringing long-life rat lures to market
Controlling rats by attracting them to traps, particularly self-resetting traps, requires having sustained release, long-life lures available.
This Tools to Market project, led by Victoria University of Wellington, has successfully created lures that attract a number of rat species. The project is now complete.
Research lead: Victoria University of Wellington
- Wellington researcher developing chemical pest lure for market - Stuff article
- Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan: Trapping pests - RNZ
Extending a Norway rat-selective pesticide to also target ship rats
This project aimed to adapt the formulation and loading of a new pesticide to deliver a lethal dose to ship rats. The new pesticide is DR8, a derivative of norbormide.
The pesticide effectively controls Norway rats but ship rats are not as susceptible. Ship rats are the dominant rat species in New Zealand forests.
The project closed in December 2020 after it failed to meet efficacy targets for ship rats. However, the work has resulted in bait improvements for both Norway and ship rat species. The researchers are continuing work to improve the ability of DR8 to control ship rats.
Research leads: Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research and Orillion Ltd
New methods to evaluate the vulnerability of native birds to PAPP
This project developed a method to estimate the susceptibility of New Zealand native birds to PAPP (para-aminopropiophenone). If PAPP is to be used in baits for predator control and applied from the air (see ‘Development of a new bait to control stoats using PAPP’), it is essential to have a good understanding of how the toxin would affect our native birds if they accidentally ate it.
Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research and Nocturnal Wildlife Research Pty Ltd successfully developed a non-lethal method and model for assessing the risk to native birds by predicting the lethal PAPP dose for specific species without requiring a lethal dose. The project was completed in July 2022.
Nine bird species in total were involved in the trials (domestic chicken, domestic duck, Japanese quail, black-backed gull, pukeko, eastern rosella (as a proxy for kea), takahē, brown kiwi and weka). The trials found that of the nine species, brown kiwi and weka were the most sensitive to PAPP. The outcomes from the trial will be used as part of the risk assessment within the PAPP stoat bait project.
Research lead: Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research