LIONS and tigers might not sound like the solution for an Australian pest problem, but a new researcher at Orange Agricultural Institute has found otherwise.
Dr Tarnya Cox recently moved to Orange from Brisbane to take up a role with the RHD Boost project team, where she will develop a monitoring and evaluation plan for new strains of rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV).
Before the move to Orange, Dr Cox completed her PhD with the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre (CRC), studying non-lethal methods of using predator scents to repel grazing pests such as goats and kangaroos.
“I was using predator odours as a form of non-lethal control for grazing pests,” she said. “Basically it’s a chemical fence. It does work. It’s particularly for the semi-urban environment where you can’t apply traditional measures like baiting or shooting.”
Faeces from lions, tigers, dingoes and Tasmanian devils was used to repel both native and introduced pests.
The CRC will find another PhD student to analyse the chemistry and may eventually develop a commercial product as a result.
Dr Cox will now focus on her new role, based at the Vertebrate Pest Research Unit in Orange.
She will conduct field work and analysis to address resistance to RHD in rabbits.
“There is evidence to suggest they’re becoming resistant to the old virus,” Dr Cox said.
“RHD was really effective for a period of time. We’ve brought in some new strains from overseas, which seem to be more effective in cool, wet areas where we’ve had difficulties.”
If it is successful, RHD Boost has a calculated value of $1.4 billion over 15 years and the potential to significantly reduce the impact of rabbits.
Finding better ways to manage pest animals has become a passion for Dr Cox since she studied wildlife biology at university.
“I’ve always been interested in pest management, particularly in the last six or seven years,” she said.
“Pest management has to be humane and it has to be effective.
“Effectiveness is subjective, depending on who you’re talking to. You have to have a variety of methods available.”