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Possum Spitfire
8 December 2014

Montage of possums reacting to Spitfire application

Spitfire trial

The Spitfire is a self-resetting, long life toxin delivery device with separate Spitfire devices designed for possums, stoats and rats. The possum Spitfire was developed under an MBIE funded program ‘Completing the Arsenal for Possum and TB control’ (CAPTB) within the Centre for Wildlife Management and Conservation at Lincoln University. The devices were designed and built by Connovation Ltd. The result is a possum-specific toxin delivery system, capable of delivering 100 measured doses per device, which can be deployed in the field for the continuous control of possums. This device is a tree-mounted device which involves possums standing on a weight activated platform and simultaneously touching a lured upper trigger (Fig. 1), When triggered, devices dispense a measured dose of a palatable gel containing zinc phosphide onto a possum’s abdomen, possums then ingest this paste through grooming.

Over the past three years we have collected data that represents proof of concept in toxic pen trials with regards to possums grooming the toxic paste and receiving a lethal dose. We have also conducted a number of non-toxic field trials of this device which confirmed that possums successfully interact and trigger devices in field settings. The first toxic field trial of these devices was undertaken at CASS Research Station in Canterbury in 2013. This involved the deployment of 11 devices at 100 m intervals in an 11 ha Nothofagus forest site. A group of 12 possums in the vicinity of these devices were collared with VHF-mortality collars and 11/12 (~90%) of these individuals were killed over a six week period.

The next step in the research of these devices was to undertake a further field trial. Project Janszoon were able to provide funding for this trial to be undertaken in the Abel Tasman National Park. A total of 29 adult possums were live captured and radio collared to enable us to evaluate the efficacy of the devices.

A total of 32 Spitfires were deployed across a peninsula. Each Spitfire was mounted on a tree with a motion activated camera set up at each site to monitor possum interactions. The trial has been running for 4 months and a total of 56 possums (15 collared and 41 uncollared) have successfully triggered the devices and been sprayed with toxic gel. These interactions were recorded on the motion activated cameras, verified by the counter on the Spitfire and further backed up by collared possums that were sprayed being radio-tracked to locate their carcasses and recover the collars.

In all trials to date, every possum that has triggered the Spitfire unit and has been sprayed has groomed the gel and ingested a toxic dose of zinc phosphide. From these observations it is more than likely that all uncollared possums sprayed by the Spitfire have died and waxtag® monitoring will also enable us to verify this population reduction.

The field trial is ongoing and we will continue to provide updates on its progress in the new year.

 

Annual New Zealand Ecology Society ConferencePalmerston North November 2014

Connovation Ltd was represented at this annual event by our Research Director Lee Shapiro where he presented results from field trials of our resetting possum toxin delivery device – The Spitfire. He joined fellow researchers from Lincoln University who presented results from trials with Spitfire devices for stoats, rats and ferrets. The Conference was attending by several hundred ecologists and restoration biologists from all over NZ and Australia.