Innovative lures to improve rat control

A Victoria University of Wellington research project has been awarded more than $360,000 to develop more effective lures to manage rats, one of New Zealand's, and the world's, most damaging mammal pests.

The Department of Conservation has invested in research to improve predator control through its Tools to Market fund, that are designed to support New Zealand’s Predator Free 2050 goal to eradicate possums, rats and stoats in the coming decades.

One of its funded projects is being led by Victoria researcher Michael Jackson.

“Traditional lures for rats and other pest species like possums are foods—things like peanut butter, chocolate and cinnamon. The problem with these foods is they’re perishable. They are only attractive for a few days, meaning more cost and time to keep monitoring devices and traps replenished,” explains Michael.

“We have identified five chemical compounds found in a variety of foods that are attractive to rats, and will develop these into long-life lure products.”

Michael, who recently submitted his PhD thesis, will work with Associate Professor Wayne Linklater and Dr Rob Keyzers from Victoria’s Centre for Biodiversity and Restoration Ecology to transform their research into viable products. Turning the five compounds into a low-cost, easy-to-use product is the projects main focus.

“There are many options for how these compounds could be dispensed, such as aerosol sprays, emulsions or aromatised plastic blocks. We will carry out trials in different devices, and in both urban and forest environments, to help us determine the best option,” says Michael.

“The ultimate aim for our project is to develop a product that ensures traps will be consistently attractive over a prolonged time period without the need for human intervention. The lures will also be easy to handle and store, cost-effective, and able to be manufactured on a large scale.”

Michael says wild rodents are a significant pest issue internationally, and a new tool to lure rats offers a substantial export opportunity for New Zealand.

“Rats are a problem not just for conservation but also for agriculture, food storage and processing, and human and animal health. In Asia, for example, the estimated rice lost every year to rodents could feed about 200 million people. Rats also transmit diseases like leptospirosis and salmonella.

“We’re delighted to receive funding from the Department of Conservation, and excited about the impact our new lures could have.”