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Individual study: Scent attractant does not increase visits of American mink Mustela vison to mink monitoring rafts on the upper Avon and tributaries, Wiltshire, England

Published source details

Reynolds J.C., Short M.J. & Leigh R.J. (2004) Development of population control strategies for mink Mustela vison, using floating rafts as monitors and trap sites. Biological Conservation, 120, 533-543

Summary

American mink Mustela vison were introduced to Europe for fur-farming in the early 1900's. Following accidental escapes and deliberate releases, mink were first recorded breeding in the U.K. during the 1950's, and they are now naturalised. In the UK and eleswhere, introduced mink have had a big detrimental impact on populations of water vole Arvicola terrestris, some river birds, and especially ground-nesting seabirds and waders. For these reasons, and as there are very few natural mink predators in Britain, it is important that mink numbers are controlled.

It is currently unknown, however, whether present trapping practises are successful in reducing mink populations, and whether traps are suitably placed. During the coypu Myocaster coypus eradication program in eastern England in the 1970's, live traps were set on rafts and mink were regularly caught in these. It was therefore thought that rafts could be useful in determining population estimates for mink. In this study, an investigation was undertaken to assess whether treating rafts with a commercially available scent attractant increased mink visits to rafts.

Study sites: A study was undertaken along the Upper Avon and four of its tributaries, the Ebble, Nadder, Wylye and Bourne to assess the efficacy of rafts to monitor American mink Mustela vison and determine whether treating rafts with a commercially available scent attractant increased mink visitations.

The Game Conservancy Trust mink raft: The rafts used in the survey were designed by The Game Conservancy Trust and consisted of three main parts: 1) a buoyant raft base, 2) a removable tracking case (to record animal footprints), and 3) a wooden tunnel.

1) The raft consisted of two 1220 x 610 x 6 mm sheets of exterior plywood sandwiching a 1220 x 610 x 50 mm sheet of expanded polystyrene, held together with six 80 mm M6 roofing bolts and nuts. A 200 x 160 mm hole was cut in the middle to accommodate the tracking case (see 2). Wire mesh (500 x 250 x 15 mm mesh) was stapled over both ends of the raft.

2) The tracking case consisted of a seed tray (external measurements 215 x 175 x 50 mm) with an out-turning lip. The tray was filled to 10 mm below the top with absorbent foam (OASIS brand floral foam, Smithers-Oasis, Kent, OH, USA) that had been saturated with water. A 10 mm layer of tracking substrate, mixed from two parts of fine buff earthernware/stoneware clay (supplied moist; Briar Wheels and Suppliers Ltd, Fordingbridge, U.K.) and one part of kiln-dried block-paving sand, was spread using a spatula to the top of the seed tray. The tracking case was sunk in the hole within the raft. The OASIS drew water though the seed tray base to ensure the tracking substrate was kept wet.

3) The wooden tunnel was made from two 500 x 150 x 25 mm tanalised side-boards and a 6 mm thick plywood roof screwed together. It was placed lengthways over the tracking cartridge and fixed to the raft with metal brackets (made from 100 x 20 x 1 mm lengths of multi-purpose fixing band (Expamet, London, UK) folded to form right angles and screwed in place.

Raft positioning: Each raft was positioned amongst emergent vegetation at the rivers edge, tethered to riverside shrubs or to an anchor post by passing a rope though 2.5 cm staples driven into the top surface of the raft. Each tributary was separated into 2 km sections from its confluence. Thirty-six pairs of rafts (total of 72 rafts) were placed along alternate 2 km sections between 14 June and 17 July, thus pairs of rafts were separated by an average of 4 km of river. Within a 2 km section, the two rafts were placed within promising looking sites for mink, and were positioned approximately 50 m.

Mink surveys - scented vs. unscented rafts: Once each pair of rafts was in position, one was selected (by tossing a coin) to have the scent attractant applied. 2-3 ml of the attractant (Russ Carman's 'Three Rivers' lure - Bert Ram Ltd., Manitoba, Canada) were dropped by pipette on to a coiled pipe-cleaner. This was fastened under the roof of the wooden tunnel using a hole drilled in the side wall for this purpose. The scent was therefore protected from any rainfall. Additionally, a few drops were put on the plywood surface of the raft at each end of the tunnel. Each raft was checked three times at two-week intervals, over a six week period. All mink tracks were recorded, as well as the tracks of water voles, which might also use rafts but potentially avoid those laced with the mink-attractant scent. Once checked for animal tracks, the tracking substrate was smoothed using a wetted spatula. Scent was not re-applied on re-visits.

At sites where American mink were recorded, scent application did not increase or decrease the probability of mink visiting rafts (detected by presence of tracks in the tracking tray) after each two week period (no figures available). Also, the application of scent did not affect the number of water vole and unidentified small mammal tracks recorded. Scent attractants are normally used in autumn/winter (for hunting purposes in North America) but in this experiment they were used in summer. Therefore, this attractant might be useful at other times of year, or a different commercially available attractant might be more effective.


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