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The Four P’s of Trapping

Live Capture Trap

Recently I bought some new traps (actually I am always buying new traps!) and as part of that I have been pondering lures and baits. Or more specifically, interaction and catch rates (more on these later). But it got me thinking … catch rates are influenced by decisions we make right at the start of our trapping journey.  So if you’re just starting out trapping, or your effort appears to have stalled and you’re finding it harder and harder to get motivated to check your traps, let’s revisit what really is important.

First, a little disclaimer. I am a marketing guy (turned pest terrorist) so I love things that rhyme and are hopefully memorable, so let me introduce my 4 Ps of trapping!

1. PESTS. Know your enemy! Do you actually have pests? If so, which ones?

These might seem silly questions, but do you actually have pests (the answer is always yes!) and which ones are they (harder answer)? Bonus questions are which ones do you want to get rid of, and why? And what’s your goal?

For our property, I have a pretty simple goal of wanting to create a safe haven for native species, specifically birds. That means I have a wide set of targets – hedgehogs, feral cats, rats, mustelids (weasels, stoats and ferrets), possums, and magpies (as they terrorise native birds). However, with this number of target species the task becomes more complex, I need a lot of traps, of differing types, with many different baits.  

The first step then is to understand the scale of the problem, and then tackle it one step at a time. This means identifying what pests exist in your patch. If you skip this step, your trapping efforts are likely to be less effective, as you might be targeting the wrong pests, in the wrong places.  And the worst thing we can do here is let personal bias affect our trapping decisions e.g “I sure I don’t have possums” (they are nocturnal, so are you sure?). “I don’t have a rat problem” (you almost certainly do!).

So, while we all want to get out there and start making a difference, monitoring is the first step. Traditionally this is via chew cards or tracking tunnels, but these are indicative only and will only statistically indicate that pests exist, not the extent of the problem. The next step up is trail cameras, and for $200ish you can buy half way decent ones online, share them with a neighbour or your local group, in which case maybe buy a better one.  

The Rolls Royce however is a thermal imaging camera, such as the one from the Cacophony Project. I have been lucky enough to be trialing one of these and really, there is NO better tool. These cameras capture everything and analyse the results, thus help us quantify the problem. However, they are not cheap. We’ve got some ideas how as a community we can leverage this new technology.  

2. PLACEMENT. Putting the right trap, in the right place.

If fish you’ve probably heard the old saying, fish where the fish are.  Trapping is the same. We want to use the right tackle (trap), in the right place. The only problem is, like fishing, everyone has a favourite trap, and theories, and more than likely a favourite fishing spot.

Luckily, if we have achieved some good monitoring outcomes, we’ve got some great data telling us we what pests we’re tackling, where they are, and in what volume. It’s then time to head out fishing for those pesky pesties!

3. PERSUASION. Using the right lure to the target pests.

Of course we might have the right tackle, or traps, but if we’re using the wrong bait then they simply won’t bite. Like fishing again, everyone has their theory on baits, so choose a popular one, then experiment with what works.

However, what is very clear is that there isn’t one universal bait, each pest will have a different preference. Eggs that might work for stoats are very unlikely to work for possums. Bait choice is very important.

4. PERSISTENCE. Regularly checking and rebaiting the traps.

After completing the first 3 steps you might be forgiven for thinking that “you’ve done it!”, and that the pests will now flock to your traps and all that yummy food! Sadly no, the journey has just begun. A trap that has sprung (been triggered) or that has no bait, obviously isn’t catching pests. To maximise your investment of time and money into this great initiative, you need to invest more time to regularly check, clear and rebait and reset your traps.  

So there we have it, the 4 P’s of trapping!  Once you’ve got a good trapping programme going, maybe just with even 1 trap (!) you can then start asking questions around interaction rates (what percentage of pests interact with my traps) and catch rates (what percentage are caught). These are critical questions because we never have enough time or money to catch all the pests, so we need to maximise both to achieve the best possible trapping outcomes.

More on that another time. Meanwhile, happy trapping!

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