Medicinal baits are distributed to manage zoonotic diseases, including raccoon (Procyon lotor) rabies, but efficient distribution strategies are needed for suburban environments. We developed an automated dispenser that transfers fishmeal polymer baits at user-specified intervals from a magazine to a receptacle fitted with a filter that exploits raccoon dexterity to limit consumption by nontarget species. We introduce the concept of automated dispensers and describe bait removal success rates for raccoons versus nontarget species. We monitored visitation with remote cameras after deploying a dispenser, programmed to present two baits per night, in three disjunct forest patches in northwest Indiana. Raccoons removed 72% of baits; nontarget, white-footed mice (Peromyscus leucopus) removed 11%; Virginia opossums (Didelphis virginiana) removed 9%. Bait removal success varied significantly between raccoons (76%) and opossums (21%), improving bait delivery specificity relative to hand baiting. Accumulation of baits in receptacles resulted in excess (more than one) bait consumption (39% of baits consumed by raccoons were excess), suggesting design improvements are needed to present additional baits only after previous baits have been consumed. Automated dispensers successfully sustained bait availability throughout the operational period. Subsequent research is needed to determine whether a sustained availability of baits achieved with automated dispensers is more effective for the treatment of raccoons in suburban environments than traditional distribution methods.
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Vol. 51 • No. 2