The very hungry bandicoot: how food may effect the success of predator avoidance training
Australia’s wildlife is said to be naïve to introduced predators such as cats and foxes, and as such, these predators are having a devastating impact on native fauna. An attempt was made to train northern brown bandicoots (Isoodon macrourus) to avoid introduced predators and access safe refuge controlled by microchip-automation. Bandicoots were trained to use a microchip-automated door to access a food reward in a mean total of 12 days. Then, predator recognition testing was done prior to, and after, predator avoidance training to determine i) the bandicoots’ response to introduced predators, ii) the success of the training and iii) the validity of this method for improving reintroduction outcomes. Behaviours and food consumption were used to determine response. During testing prior to training, bandicoots showed the greatest response to dogs, and the least response to cats. During predator training, bandicoots consistently consumed less food during the first session of training compared with sessions 1-3 hours later, regardless of the predator species. During testing after training, bandicoots showed minimal difference in response to predators from before training. These results indicate that current, traditional predator avoidance training has limited potential for improving the reintroduction success of bandicoots. This highlights the potential need for supplementary feed (provided in a safe manner, such as in a microchip-automated space) when predation pressure is high, as bandicoots are more likely to perform risk-taking behaviours when they are motivated to seek food.