Endangered species benefit from evolving technologies

| October 31, 2017 | 0 Comments

Invasive rats prey on Hawai’i’s endangered plants like the haha, which was once considered extinct in the wild. (Courtesy of U.S. Army’s Oahu Natural Resources Program)

Army installing nearly 1,000 self-resetting rat traps on mountains

Stefanie Gutierrez
U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii Public Affairs

SCHOFIELD BARRACKS — In the rodent business, a lot can change in five years.

That’s according to small mammal control biologist Tyler Bogardus with the Pacific International Center for High Technology Research (PICHTR).

Bogardus is helping the U.S. Army protect endangered species on O‘ahu by controlling one of their largest threats: rats.

His current project involves replacing more than 1,300 traditional snap traps in the Wai‘anae and Ko‘olau mountains with nearly 1,000 modern self-resetting traps over the next few months. The total area covered is approximately 400 acres, or roughly 300 football fields.

Invasive rats prey on Hawai‘i’s endangered plants like the hāhā, which was once considered extinct in the wild. This photo shows the damage hungry rats inflict on plant fruits and seeds. (Courtesy of U.S. Army’s Oahu Natural Resources Program)

The effort will improve protection for endangered species that rats prey on, like the O‘ahu ‘elepaio bird and the hāhā plant, which was once extinct in the wild.

It will also save time and money – precious resources in their own right.

Army contractors check the snap traps every two weeks; however, the self-resetting traps will be checked every four months. The reason these self-resetting traps last longer is their carbon dioxide-powered design and bait system.

That bait system was improved in 2016 when New Zealand trap manufacturer Good Nature added an automatic lure pump that regularly releases small amounts of fresh bait to whet the rats’ appetite.

“The lure pump was a big part of why we decided to transition to this style of trap,” Bogardus said. “We’re now more effective at controlling rats, and we’re also essentially cutting our overall costs in half.”

Driving change
The Army’s O‘ahu Natural Resources Program has built a reputation for itself as a leader of research and development, especially when it comes to rodent control tools to increase efficiency and effectiveness.

The program helped pioneer the first use of self-resetting traps in Hawai‘i in 2012, in partnership with the National Park Service. Then in 2016, the program conducted a study aimed at keeping slugs from eating the chocolaty bait.

“We can’t get the rats if the slugs are eating all of the bait,” Bogardus said.

The self-resetting traps use an automatic lure pump, shown here, to release small amounts of chocolaty bait to attract invasive rats. (Courtesy of U.S. Army’s Oahu Natural Resources Program)

The study focused on adding citric acid to the bait to determine the best concentration for deterring slug consumption. Bogardus hopes the added ingredient will make the bait last even longer, extending the reset time by another two months and reducing associated labor costs.

It was one of several research efforts highlighted in the Army’s 2016-2017 annual natural resources status report released this month. Other efforts highlighted include seed-sowing trials with endangered plants on cliffs, research on ant impacts to native insects and the completion of a fifth snail enclosure to protect endangered kahuli tree snails from predators. Plans for the year ahead include a trial to test the effectiveness of rodent birth control.

Rats and military readiness
So what does controlling rats have to do with military readiness? More than one might think, according to Kapua Kawelo, the program manager for the Army’s O‘ahu Natural Resources Program.

“To be ready, our Soldiers need to train,” Kawelo said. “Our job is to look at what impacts training could have on our natural resources and to come up with solutions … solutions that support the resources and our Soldiers’ training mission.”

Sometimes that means protecting threatened and endangered species on lands that aren’t managed by the Army.
For example, the areas where Bogardus and team are replacing the snap traps are state and private lands, in addition to Army-managed lands.

“By partnering with other landowners, we can ensure that if a population in one area was impacted, the species could still survive,” Kawelo said. “In a way, we’re like the Army’s environmental insurance policy,” she added.




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