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Feathery Fascination!

By Louise Molloy, 7 December 2022

Photo of an eagle on the ground reaching out with its leg to a feathery boa.

All kinds of animals are attracted to feather boas!
Image: Alexandra Paton

Camera, feather boa—action! It’s showtime in the forests of Tasmania. Scientists from the University of Tasmania are looking into the impact of feral cats, and they’ve found one method that attracts all kinds of critters.

Caught on camera

The team use camera-traps. “These are cameras that take an image when they sense the movement and heat from an animal in their field of view,” explains team member, Alexandra Paton. The team have one of the largest networks in the world with 1,300 camera sites across Tasmania, of which 600 are active at the moment.

The camera-traps have taken hundreds of thousands of photos. They’re processed in 2 steps using AI. The first step detects if there is a critter in the photo, and the second identifies the critter. This second algorithm has been trained to identify 31 of Tasmania’s more common species, from wallabies, bandicoots and birds to feral cats.

Framed!

Pademelon caught on night camera.

A plant-eating pademelon gives the boa a hug
Image: Alexandra Paton

It’s estimated that feral cats kill more than 3 billion animals each year across Australia. But monitoring where they are can be tricky.

Alex has started a project to fine-tune the use of these camera-traps. She’s investigating if lures might entice critters closer for a good mugshot! Her project involves 3 different types of lures: food (a cage of meat), smell (tuna oil) and visual (a feather boa), as well as posts with no lure attached.

The mugshots so far have been quite unexpected! From pademelons that cuddled it to feral cats that shredded it, the feather boa seems to be the star lure.

Moggie mugshots

Cat caught on night camera with feathery boa.

Cats like to shred the feather boas
Image: Alexandra Paton

Feral cats might be more likely to visit feather boa lures. Alex thinks meat lures attract larger animals such as tassie devils and quolls, and they hang around until they’ve taken every last bite! So other critters might avoid these camera-traps.

But back to all those mugshots. Alex continues to analyse them and gather statistics—all valuable info as we work to protect endangered animals from feral cats.

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