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CSIRO scientists trialling new humane technology to scare away vertebrate pests from farms and crops

Above photo: A close up of one of the VPDaD nodes/ photo credit: CSIRO

Scientists from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia are trialling a new humane technological solution to deter pests, such as ducks, cockatoos, rabbits, wild dogs and more away from farms and crops in Australia, starting with a feasibility study in Queensland’s Lockyer Valley.

Vertebrate pest animals can cause many thousands of dollars’ damage in a single dining experience, causing real problems for farmers’ orchards, vegetable and cereal crops, and potentially for livestock during critical periods of development or birthing events. It is estimated that pest animals cost the Australian economy up to AU$1 billion a year.

The Vertebrate Pest Detect-and-Deter (VPDaD) consists of two systems: a motion sensor device, and a collection of cameras that can pick up images and heat signatures of an animal, with lights and sounds which function as the deterrent for pests.

The technology works by detecting and identifying animals (CSIRO technology specifically developed for the camera program allows the computer to recognise and classify animals based on the images captured) as they come close to farms or crops, and emitting a tailored series of sounds and lights to humanely scare them away before they cause damage.

Animals can become de-sensitised to existing deterrent technologies and the smarter ones can even learn to use the deterrents as an indication of a food source, which is the opposite of their purpose.

CSIRO’s autonomous technology allows the system to recognise animal behaviours in response to deterrents and modify the deterrent strategy until the desired effect is achieved.

“This allows the system to be more effective over long periods of time such as the key threat times during crop growing,”CSIRO scientist Dr Ash Tews said.

In the study underway in the Lockyer Valley, scientists are looking at how animals respond to perceived threats, and at longer-term aspects, such as analysing deterrent effectiveness and animal movements over seasons.

CSIRO is looking to partner with local agribusinesses to continue testing and trialling the technology in Australia, aiming to help primary industries facing problems with an array of animals including ducks, cockatoos, rabbits, feral pigs, wallabies, foxes and dingoes.

“Ultimately we want to scale-up the technology and roll it out across Australia,” Dr. Tews said.

A previous trial was conducted in Gabon, Africa, where elephants can present a significant problem for villagers and agricultural communities, capable of destroying a community’s entire season’s worth of crops overnight.

In collaboration with agribusiness company Olam International, the VPDaD technology was successfully used to prevent elephants from destroying fruit crops.

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