Fenced reserves and sanctuaries are a common strategy for protecting species from predation, but if individuals of a prey species are removed from their predators for an extended period they can lose predator avoidance strategies. In addition, species that have not evolved with predators may be unprepared to deal with them. These processes are termed 'prey naiveté,' which is implicated as one of the major factors in the decline of prey species. To address this, some studies have tried to train naïve individuals to recognise predators prior to release, using predator cues such as olfactory, auditory and visual stimuli, but these training attempts have not necesssariliy been successful in terms of post-release survival (e.g. Moseby et al. 2012). It is possible that only direct contact with a predator can reduce prey naiveté, either through natural selection or improved wary behaviours.
In the present study we exposed a fenced population of greater bilbies (Macrotis lagotis) to a controlled number of feral cats (Felis catus) (n=5) for two years in a large (26 km2) fenced enclosure. We then translocated n=42 bilbies (half exposed and half unexposed) to a separate enclosure with a larger population of feral cats (n=10). The cat-exposed bilbies were significantly more likely to survive 40 days, and the bilbies with no cat exposure were more likely to be preyed upon, suggesting that in-situ predator exposure may result in greater predator avoidance strategies and may be a useful long-term strategy for improving the reintroduction success of fenced populations.
Moseby, K.E., Cameron, A., Crisp, H.A., 2012. Can predator avoidance training improve reintroduction outcomes for the greater bilby in arid Australia? Animal Behaviour 83.4, 1011-1021.