Posts tagged ‘chemical warfare’

Piss on it!

Or… how do you keep packs of African wild dogs inside an  unfenced boundary?

Today Scientific American reports on a unique kind of barrier being used to keep African wild dogs inside the reserves designed to protect them.

Over the past year, [Craig] Jackson, a biologist, and his colleagues working on the Northern Tuli Wild Dog Project, have shown that strategically placed urine—called Bio-Boundaries—can help restrict the movements of these notorious fence-breakers in order to keep the endangered canines on protected land. “The fact that we’ve been able to contain these dogs is amazing,” Jackson says.

Keeping wild dogs inside the boundaries of preserves is important for their safety as well as for the safety of domestic goats and other animals the dogs often prey on outside the reserves.  African wild dogs hunt in packs like their cousins the wolves.  And they are remarkably successful at it.

Compared with lions, which successfully kill just 20 percent of the animals they stalk, wild dogs have a hunting success rate ranging from 40 to 80 percent. That’s not always a good thing for an animal that must coexist with humans and their livestock.

The wild dogs’ success at hunting is surpassed only by ours.  Humans are the number one killer of wild dogs, reportedly directly responsible for as much as 60 percent of all deaths.  We’re also indirectly responsible for the large number of deaths caused by diseases like parvo, rabies and distemper that wild dogs catch from their domestic brothers.

So keeping wild dogs inside the boundaries of game parks is vital to maintaining viable populations.  But how does one keep a bright, wide-ranging, atheletic species confined to a large, unfenced area?  Well it turns out that strategically placed urine samples do the trick quite nicely. The Botswana Predator Conservation Trust (BPCT) is conducting research with the goal of identifying the signaling chemicals in African wild dog territorial scent marks. According to their website:

The aim is to identify the chemicals in the scent mark odour that are sending the territorial “No Trespassing” signal and to use them to make artificial territorial boundaries that will protect wild dog packs by keeping them within the safety of protected conservation areas.  […]  African Wild Dogs, like nearly all mammals, send their social messages as complex mixtures of airborne organic chemicals, called semiochemicals. Wild dog packs stake out their hunting territories with patches of soil soaked with the urine of the pack’s alpha pair, and the odour of these scent marks tells neighbouring packs and itinerant dispersers “This area is occupied, no trespassing.”

BPCT’s goal is to use BioBoundaries to prevent human-wild dog conflicts.  And if they achieve their goal, parks won’t be the only areas where BioBoundaries area used.  Wild dog populations are in decline across Africa and problems with human predation and diseases spread by domestic dogs aren’t the only factors limiting their numbers.  As we’ve posted here before, wild dogs need to live in large packs and have access to interconnected ranges to survive as viable populations. They don’t just need room to hunt game – they also need safe migration corridors that allow populations to grow and mix.  BPCT hopes to use BioBoundaries to create genetic corridors between the healthy populations to allow genetic mixing to occur with minimal human intervention.

wilddogsniff

Smells like "No Tresspassing" to me

Will it work?  BioBoundaries are not an entirely new idea.  Semiochemicals have been used commercially for pest control decades.  According to SciAm:

In 1996 J. Weldon “Tico” McNutt, director of the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust noticed that it took a pack of dogs six months to move into a territory in Okavango that was left empty after four packs there were wiped out by rabies. He speculated that long-lasting chemicals in their urine and feces discouraged the dogs from entering those former territories, but never had the opportunity to the put his theory to practice. After all, it would not make sense to disrupt the behavior of healthy dog populations, and smaller populations were all kept within fences.

Finally, in April 2008, after 18 dogs were moved by conservationists to Tuli from Marakele National Park in South Africa, McNutt had his chance and Jackson was tasked with maintaining the bio-boundary and monitoring the animals’ movements with GPS-equipped dog collars. The researchers have flown more than 500 scent marks to Tuli over the last year, and the dogs appear to be staying within the bounds of the fenceless reserve.

BPCT hopes to identify and synthesize key components in wild dog territorial scent.  They believe that using laboratory-made scents would be more practical than collecting urine in the field. (Though I can’t help but wonder if collecting scent might be one way to employ local humans and make at least a few of them happy to have wild dogs in their back yard.)  If the project is successful, in the future  BioBoundaries might be used to control other large predators and territorial species.

Perhaps someday they’ll have formulas we can use to keep pests like deer, rabbits and the neighbors dog out of our garden too.

April 18, 2009 at 12:20 am 4 comments

The Swarm

Today was the day. That dreaded day each fall when the Asian Lady Beetles and Box Elder Bugs swarm our place.


Video from the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Commision
(this is not our house – but the topography, vegetation… and swarm… sure look like ours)

They swarm. Millions of them.  To get an idea of what it felt like in our yard today — cast Zip as Tippi Hedron, Audie as Rod Taylor and turn horrid little things into flocks of marauding birds.  This leaves me as Jessica Tandy and casts Audie (appropriately) as a momma’s boy.  Mark makes a cameo appearance as Hitchcock.

When the bugs come, there are so many of them and they create such a nuisance for us here that we’ve resorted to a limited form of chemical warfare to fight them.  I detest using pesticides but before we did I’d have to sweep gallons of dead bugs off the floor of the training center and garage every day.  Did I mention that when the horrid little things are dead – they stink?  The ones I couldn’t find were a bigger problem than the ones I did.  After they infested it, the place smelled like rotting, burnt piss fir all winter.

So, on warm October days we avoid the front doors of the house and training center.  The front door of the house faces south and the training center faces west – so pretty much any time between noon and 4 p.m. going through those doors feels like being cast in a miniature version of the infamous playground scene.

I don’t feel bad about killing the Lady Beetles – they’re not the least bit ladylike.  An exotic, invasive species that has been in our area for less than ten years – they don’t belong.  In their natural habitat (which this is not) they prefer to winter over on white or light-colored cliffs.  When they can’t find enough cliff areas, they swarm on light-colored buildings.  Our house is red brick – but the front porch is light.  The beetles love that front porch.  The training center is dark-colored too – but there are two very large, very  white overhead doors on the west side.  The %&#$*# invaders postively lust for those doors.

Once these unwanted, invasive aliens congregate on the outside of your building – they start looking for a way in.  And they’re very good at finding ways to get in.  Once they get inside – they die.  And then they stink.  …Did I mention that if they land on you before they die – they bite?

So, since they’ve got lots of lovely, light-brown cliffs along the creek below our house where the swarm can winter over in a safe and somewhat biologically appropriate manner (considering they aren’t a native species here) – and – they’ll very likely just die (and stink) anyway once they crawl into my house and outbuildings, I suppose our limited use of a professionally applied insecticide barrier is appropriate.

According to the Minnestoa DNR:

Asian lady beetle populations are increasing in Minnesota because this species presently has no known natural enemies to control its numbers. The worst news is that they are replacing other species of lady beetles that are native to Minnesota.

Where did they originally come from?  According to Iowa State’s Integrated Crop Management Program website:

Their original distribution is China, Japan, and Siberia. They are not native to North America, but they have been intentionally released in the United States by entomologists. This lady beetle was extensively released for biological control of other insects beginning in 1916 in California. During 1978-1981, the beetle was additionally released by state and federal (USDA) agencies in several states along the Atlantic Coast and Gulf of Mexico, but the personnel responsible for these releases claim that the beetles never became established and eventually died out. Accidental entries have arrived on nursery stock at ports in Delaware and South Carolina. The first extensive populations were found in the United States in 1988 near the port of New Orleans, Louisiana, and it is assumed that these beetles arrived on a container ship from eastern Asia. Therefore, it is not known for certain whether the lady beetles’ establishment in the United States was the result of accidental entries, planned releases, or both.

More bad stuff from China.  Cripes.  They probably turn into melamine when they decompose…

October 7, 2008 at 2:02 am 1 comment


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