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17 April 2023 The Sentinel Bait Station: an automated, intelligent design pest animal baiting system
G. Charlton, G. Falzon, A. Shepley, P. J. S. Fleming, G. Ballard, P. D. Meek
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Context. Ground baiting is a strategic method for reducing vertebrate pest populations. Best practice involves maximising bait availability to the target species, although sustaining this availability is resource intensive because baits need to be replaced each time they are taken. This study focused on improving pest population management through the novel baiting technique outlined in this manuscript, although there is potential use across other species and applications (e.g. disease management).

Aims. To develop and test an automated, intelligent, and semi-permanent, multi-bait dispenser that detects target species before distributing baits and provides another bait when a target species revisits the site.

Methods. We designed and field tested the Sentinel Bait Station, which comprises a camera trap with in-built species-recognition capacity, wireless communication and a dispenser with the capacity for five baits. A proof-of-concept prototype was developed and validated via laboratory simulation with images collected by the camera. The prototype was then evaluated in the field under real-world conditions with wild-living canids, using non-toxic baits.

Key results. Field testing achieved 19 automatically offered baits with seven bait removals by canids. The underlying image recognition algorithm yielded an accuracy of 90%, precision of 83%, sensitivity of 68% and a specificity of 96% throughout field testing. The response time of the system, from the point of motion detection (within 6–10 m and the field-of-view of the camera) to a bait being offered to a target species, was 9.81 ± 2.63 s.

Conclusions. The Sentinel Bait Station was able to distinguish target species from non-target species. Consequently, baits were successfully deployed to target species and withheld from non-target species. Therefore, this proof-of-concept device is able to successfully provide baits to successive targets from secure on-board storage, thereby overcoming the need for daily bait replacement.

Implications. The proof-of-concept Sentinel Bait Station design, together with the findings and observations from field trials, confirmed the system can deliver multiple baits and increase the specificity in which baits are presented to the target species using artificial intelligence. With further refinement and operational field trials, this device will provide another tool for practitioners to utilise in pest management programs.

G. Charlton, G. Falzon, A. Shepley, P. J. S. Fleming, G. Ballard, and P. D. Meek "The Sentinel Bait Station: an automated, intelligent design pest animal baiting system," Wildlife Research 51(1), (17 April 2023).
Received: 10 November 2022; Accepted: 24 March 2023; Published: 17 April 2023
artificial intelligence
invasive species
Machine vision
pest control
pest Management
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