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Providing evidence to improve practice

Individual study: Anti-predator training has positive effects on behavior and post-release survival of captive black-tailed prairie dogs Cynomys ludovicianus at Vermejo Park Ranch, New Mexico, USA

Published source details

Shier D.M. & Owings D.H. (2006) Effects of predator training on behavior and post-release survival of captive prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus). Biological Conservation, 132, 126-135

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Train captive-bred mammals to avoid predators Terrestrial Mammal Conservation

A randomized, controlled study in 2002–2003 on grassland at a captive facility and at a reintroduction site in New Mexico, USA (Shier & Owings 2006) found that training captive-born juvenile black-tailed prairie dogs Cynomys ludovicianus, by exposing them to predators, enhanced post-release survival. Prairie dogs “trained” using black-footed ferrets Mustela nigripes, red-tailed hawks Buteo jamaicensis and prairie rattlesnakes Crotalus viridis had greater survival one year post-release than did untrained prairie dogs (data not presented). During captive trials, only the hawk elicited fleeing behaviour. The rattlesnake caused trained juveniles to spend more time being vigilant and making alarm noises and to spend less time in shelters than untrained juveniles. In spring 2002, eighteen captive-born juvenile prairie dogs were randomly assigned to training or non-training groups. Both groups had four tests/week for two weeks. Each test involved either a predator stimulus for the training group (live ferret, live rattlesnake or stuffed red tailed hawk, each accompanied by prairie dog alarm calls) or a non-predator control for the untrained group (live desert cottontail Sylvilagus audubonii). Prairie dogs were then released into a vacant colony in June 2002. Post-release survival was determined by live-trapping.

(Summarised by Nick Littlewood)