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Providing evidence to improve practice

Action: Provide supplementary food during/after release of translocated mammals Terrestrial Mammal Conservation

Key messages

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  • Abundance (2 studies): A controlled study in Spain found that providing supplementary food during translocation did not increase European rabbit abundance. A study in France found that following supplementary feeding in a holding pen prior to release, a translocated deer population increased over six years.
  • Reproductive success (4 studies): Three studies (one replicated) in the USA, Italy and Ireland found that having been provided with supplementary food in holding pens prior to release, translocated black-tailed prairie dogs, a pair of Eurasian badgers and most female red squirrels reproduced in the wild. A study in the UK found that some translocated pine martens released from holding pens and then provided with supplementary food and nest boxes bred in the first year after release.
  • Survival (10 studies): Six of 10 studies (including one replicated and one controlled study) in the UK, France, Italy, Ireland, South Africa, USA, Argentina and Australia found that at sites with supplementary food in holding pens before (and in two cases after) release, translocated populations of black-tailed prairie dogs, approximately half of female roe deer and over half of red squirrels, Eurasian badgers, pine martens and released rehabilitated or captive reared giant anteaters survived for between one month and at least two years. Four studies found that at translocation release sites with provision of supplementary food, in most cases artificial refuges and in one case water, no red squirrels, rock hyraxes or burrowing bettongs survived over 2-5 months and most translocated Tipton and Heermann’s kangaroo rat spp. died within five days. A controlled study in France found that translocated European rabbits provided with supplementary food in holding pens for three days prior to release had higher female (but not male) survival rates immediately following release compared to those released directly. A controlled study in the UK found that survival of translocated and rehabilitated European hedgehogs that were provided with supplementary food after release varied with release method.
  • Condition (2 studies): One of three studies (including one replicated, one controlled and two before-and-after studies) in the UK and Australia found that translocated common dormice gained weight after being provided with supplementary food. One found that translocated eastern bettongs did not have increased body weights after provision of supplementary food in fenced enclosures prior to release. The other found that translocated and rehabilitated European hedgehogs provided with food after release all lost body mass, with effects varying with release method.


  • Use (1 study): A controlled study in Australia found that supplementary feeding stations were visited by translocated burrowing bettongs.
  • Behaviour change (1 study): A controlled study in Argentina found that after being provided with supplementary food and kept in holding pens, released captive-bred giant anteaters were less nocturnal than wild-born rehabilitated and released individuals.

Supporting evidence from individual studies


A before-and-after study in 1991 in a woodland reserve in Somerset, UK (Bright & Morris 1994) found that translocated common dormice Muscardinus avellanarius gained weight after being provided with supplementary food after release. Translocated common dormice lost an average 0.30 g/day before supplementary food was provided but then gained 0.20 g/day after supplementary food provision commenced. The study was conducted along a 9-ha strip of woodland and scrub. Seven dormice were translocated between 30 May and 28 June 1991. Dormice were weighed every 2–3 days up until 10–14 days after release. Six of the seven dormice were provided with supplementary food (sliced apple, sunflower seeds, fruits of trees from the study site) for 5–8 days. Dormice were caught in the morning and placed at the release site in the nest box in which they had been captured, by early afternoon of the same day.


A study in 1993–1994 on a forested peninsula in Dorset, UK (Kenward & Hodder 1998) found that none of the translocated red squirrels Sciurus vulgaris provided with supplementary food and water in holding pens (with nestboxes) and once released survived over five months after release. Out of 14 translocated red squirrels, 11 (79%) survived over one week. Only three (21%) survived >3 months and none survived >4.5 months. At least half of the 14 squirrels were killed by mammalian predators. Intact carcasses examined showed signs of weight loss and stress (see original paper for details). Between October and November 1993, fourteen wild-born red squirrels were released into an 80-ha forest dominated by Scots pine Pinus sylvestris. The forest had no red squirrels but had introduced grey squirrels Sciurus carolinensis. Capture and release sites were similar habitats. Supplementary food comprised a mixture of seeds, nuts and fruit on trays and in feed hoppers. Squirrels were kept in 1.5 × 1.5 × 1.5 m weldmesh pens surrounded by electric fencing for 3–6 days before release. Squirrels were kept individually except for 2 males who shared a pen. After release, squirrels continued to have access to food, water and nest boxes inside the pens and outside (20-100 m away). All squirrels were radio-tagged and located 1–3 times/day, for 10–20 days after release and thereafter every 1–2 days.


A replicated study in 1995–1997 in four grassland sites in New Mexico, USA (Truett & Savage 1998) found that translocated populations of black-tailed prairie dogs Cynomys ludovicianusi provided with supplementary food and kept in holding pens prior to release persisted at least two years after release and reproduced in the wild. The number of black-tailed prairie dogs approximately doubled during the first spring after release in one site on one ranch where supplementary food was provided. Between the second spring and summer, after supplementary feeding had ceased, the number of animals associated with both release sites on the same ranch doubled. Precise numbers are not reported. One hundred and one prairie dogs were translocated to two ranches (Armendaris Ranch received 71 individuals; Ladder Ranch: 30 individuals) between June 1995 and June 1997. At each ranch, prairie dogs were released into two 0.4-ha holding pens (number of individuals per holding pen is not provided). Holding pens were fenced and surrounded by electric wire. Animals at Armendaris ranch were provided with supplementary food in pens for several months up to a year. Information on population persistence at Ladder Ranch is not provided. The time individuals were kept in the holding pens before subsequent release varied between a few days, weeks and some weren’t released from them at all (see original paper for details).


A controlled study in 1997 in a mixed pasture and cultivated fields farmland site in northern France (Letty et al. 2000) found that translocated European rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus provided with supplementary food in holding pens for three days prior to release had higher female survival rates immediately following release compared to rabbits released directly, but male survival rates did not differ. During the first day after translocations, the survival rate of female rabbits released from pre-release pens with supplementary food was higher (100%) than that of females released directly into the wild (83%) and male rabbits released from release pens (78%). The survival rate of male rabbits released from pre-release pens with supplementary food (78%) was not significantly different to male rabbits released directly into the wild (92%). One hundred and four rabbits were translocated from Parc-du-Sausset to a 150-ha area of cultivated fields and pasture in Héric, approximately 400 km away in January 1997. Of these, roughly half were acclimatised in eight 100-m² enclosures (fence height: 1 m), for three days prior to release. Rabbits were provided supplementary food while in pens. Survival was estimated by night-time relocation of ear-tagged rabbits using a spotlight, daily in the first week after release and twice a week until late February 1997.


A study in 1995–2002 in a mixed oak forest reserve in the south of France (Calenge et al. 2005) found that following supplementary feeding in a holding pen prior to release, approximately half of translocated female roe deer Capreolus capreolus survived over one year after release and overall the deer population increased six years after the translocations began. Twenty-six out of 49 (53%) translocated female roe deer survived over one year post-release. Of the animals that died in the first year, 35% of mortality occurred within the first month after release. After six years the deer population had increased to 0.47 deer/km2 compared to 0.06 deer/km2 in the first year after translocation began. In February 1995–1997, fifty-two male and 52 female roe deer were translocated from Northern France into a 3,300-ha forest reserve in Southern France in seven release sessions. Animals were placed into enclosures in groups of approximately 15 individuals for 2-10 days and provided with food (pellets and fresh vegetables) prior to release. Forty-nine females (21 <1 year old and 28 >1 year old) were radio-tagged and were located from a vehicle once or twice each week, over one year post-release. In addition, surveys were carried out on foot (6 transects, each 5-7 km long) eight times a year in February-March 1996-2002 to estimate population growth. Deer were present in low numbers prior to translocation.


A study in 2001–2005 in a mixed forest and farmland site in northern Italy (Balestrieri et al. 2006) found that just over half of translocated Eurasian badgers Meles meles provided with supplementary food in holding pens (in groups) survived at least 1-9 months after release and one pair reproduced. Seven out of 12 badgers survived for 1–9 months, after which monitoring equipment stopped operating. One badger died almost immediately after release due to unknown causes. Two badgers escaped (one after the first month, the other after an unknown period). The fate of three other badgers was unknown. One pair of translocated animals reproduced in the wild four years after release. From March 2001 to May 2004, twelve badgers were captured at four sites in northern Italy. Badgers were fitted with radio-collars and transported 20-40 km to the release site where they were kept in a 350 m2 enclosure in a wooded area in their release groups (2001: 2 individuals, 2002: 4 individuals, 2003: 2 individuals; 2004: 4 individuals) and provided supplementary food for 3–10 weeks before release. Seven of the 12 badgers were located once/week, for up to nine months after release.


A controlled study in 2004 in 20 suburban gardens in Bristol, UK (Molony et al. 2006) found that translocated and rehabilitated European hedgehogs Erinaceus europaeus that were provided with supplementary food after release all lost body mass and some did not survive, but the effects differed with release type. Directly translocated hedgehogs (<6 days in captivity) had a lower eight-week survival probability (41%) and a larger reduction in body mass over this time (33%) than did resident hedgehogs in release gardens (survival: 95%; body mass reduction: 5%) and hedgehogs kept in captivity prior to release (survival: 82%; body mass reduction: 9%). Over the same period, rehabilitated hedgehogs (survival: 73%; body mass reduction: 13%) and resident hedgehogs 3 km away (survival: 64%; body mass reduction: 10%) had statistically similar survival and body mass loss as directly translocated hedgehogs. Only one translocated hedgehog survived seven weeks after release. Between May and June 2004, hedgehogs were translocated to gardens in Bristol: after rehabilitation in a wildlife hospital (20 individuals, >1 month in captivity) in Scotland, directly from Scotland (20 individuals, <6 days in captivity); and from Scotland with >1 month in captivity (23 individuals). In addition, 23 free-living resident hedgehogs were captured and re-released <50 m from release gardens, and 26 free-living resident hedgehogs were captured and released >3 km from release gardens. Food was provided during the first week after release. Hedgehogs were radio-tracked over eight weeks. Hedgehogs were weighed every 10 days.


A controlled study in 1999–2002 in a shrubland site in Huelva, Spain (Cabezas & Moreno 2007) found that providing supplementary food during translocation of European rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus did not increase their abundance relative to unfed translocated rabbits. Over three years, the average rabbit abundance in translocation plots where food was provided (8.9 pellets/m2) was not significantly different than in plots where translocated rabbits were not fed (5.0 pellets/m2). The study was conducted in four 4-ha plots (1–6 km apart). Each year, in autumn, herbaceous crops (barley Hordeum vulgare and oats Avena sativa) were sown in two plots to provide supplementary feeding. Batches of 64–67 rabbits were translocated into each of two plots (one with and one without supplementary food) each winter from 1999–2000 to 2001–2002. Translocation plots were switched after the first year, such that translocations in the second and third year were into plots where no translocations were made in the first year. Between September 1999 and November 2002, rabbit abundance was estimated every two months by counting the number of pellets in 33 fixed-position 0.5-m diameter sampling points/plot. Wild rabbits were present in all plots prior to translocations beginning.


A study in 2005–2007 in a mixed conifer forest in Galway, Ireland (Poole & Lawton 2009) found that over half of translocated red squirrels Sciurus vulgaris provided with supplementary food in holding pens (with nest boxes) and after release survived over eight months after release and most females reproduced during that period. At least 10 out of 19 (53%) translocated squirrels survived over eight months post-release and five out of nine translocated females (56%) were lactating 5-7 months after release. In August 2006, seven juvenile squirrels were caught. At least one squirrel was still alive in the release location two years after the original release. Two squirrels died while in the release pen or shortly afterwards. Another four squirrels died 1-2 months after release. Ten of 13 squirrels established home ranges which contained supplementary feeding stations. Nineteen squirrels were translocated to a nature reserve (19 ha) in the middle of a 789-ha commercial pine plantation, 112 km from the capture site. Individuals were marked, radio-tagged and kept on average for 46 days in one of two pre-release enclosures (3.6 × 3.6 × 3.9 m high). Enclosures contained branches, platforms, nest boxes, and supplementary feeders (containing nuts, maize, seeds and fruit). Supplementary food (50/50 peanut/maize mix) was provided in six feeders in the nature reserve until July 2006. Twenty nest boxes were also provided Squirrels were radio-tracked in September and November 2005 and February and May 2006, and were trapped in February, May and August 2006 and observed once in October 2007.


A study in 2005–2006 at rocky outcrops on a reserve in KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa (Wimberger et al. 2009) found that translocated rock hyraxes Procavia capensis that were provided with food and an artificial refuge after release in a social group, having been held in captivity, all died (or were presumed to have died) within 87 days of release. Eighty-seven days after the release of 17 hyraxes, none could be relocated. In July 2005, ten adult hyraxes were caught in baited mammal traps (900 × 310 × 320 mm) in an area where they were abundant, and held in captivity for 16 months, during which time three died. The remaining seven were released in November 2006, along with the eight juveniles and two pups born to them in captivity, to a 656-ha reserve where the species was nearly extinct. For four months prior to release, the group was housed together in an outdoor cage (5.9 × 2.5 × 3.2 m). Hyraxes were released into a hay-filled hutch which was left in place for several months, and were provided with cabbage for one week after release. Hyraxes were monitored by direct observations and by walking regular transects, daily for the first week but decreasing to monthly by the end of the study.


A study in 2001 in a grassland and shrubland site in California, USA (Germano 2010) found that most translocated Tipton kangaroo rats Dipodomys nitratoides nitratoides and Heermann’s kangaroo rats Dipodomys heermanni ssp. provided with supplementary food within artificial burrows after release died within five days of release. All four Tipton kangaroo rats were predated within five days of translocation, and only one out of seven Heermann’s kangaroo rats survived over 45 days. Three Heermann’s kangaroo rats were predated, two died as a result of aggression from other Heermann’s kangaroo rats, and the fate of one was unknown. In September 2001, four juvenile Tipton kangaroo rats and three Heermann’s kangaroo rats were captured and held in captivity for two months before release at a protected site in November. In December 2001, a further four Heermann’s kangaroo rats were caught and translocated to the same site. All 11 animals were fitted with a radio-transmitter and ear tags, and monitored for seven days in captivity prior to release. The release site was already occupied by Heermann’s kangaroo rats. Animals were released into individual artificial burrows (two 90-cm-long cardboard tubes with a chamber about 30 cm below the surface), dug 10–15 m apart and provided with seeds. Burrows were plugged with paper towels until dusk. Animals were radio-tracked every 1–8 days for 18–45 days after release.


A study in 2007–2014 in a grassland reserve in Corrientes Province, Argentina (Di Blanco et al. 2015; same study site as Di Blanco et al. 2017) found that over half of released rehabilitated or captive reared giant anteaters Myrmecophaga tridactyla, some of which were provided supplementary food and initially kept in holding pens, survived for at least six months. At least 18 of 31 (58%) released giant anteaters survived for a minimum of six months. Long term survival and the fate of the other 13 anteaters is not reported. In 2007–2013, thirty-one giant anteaters (18 males, 13 females; 1–8 years old) were released into a 124-km2 private reserve. Hunting within the reserve was prohibited and livestock were absent. Three anteaters were wild-born but rehabilitated in captivity from injuries, 22 were wild-born but captive-reared and six were from zoos (origin not stated). Of the 18 surviving anteaters, six had been released after a short period in a 0.5-ha pen at the release site and 12 after 7–30 days in a 7-ha pen. Supplementary food was provided for several weeks after release. In 2007–2014, thirteen anteaters were tracked for less than six months, and 18 were tracked for 6–46 months.


A controlled study in 2013 at a desert site in South Australia, Australia (Bannister et al. 2016) found that supplementary feeding stations were visited by translocated burrowing bettongs Bettongia lesueur, but populations did not persist. At a large release area, bettongs were detected at 52–80% of track pads at feeders compared to 0–8% of track pads sited 200 m from feeders. No bettongs were detected >42 days after the final release. At three smaller release areas, bettongs persisted for 10 and 53 days at sites where supplementary food was provided and for two days at a site where it was not provided. Bettongs were translocated and released into rabbit warrens in July–December 2013. In one area 1,266 bettongs were released. Five smaller releases, of 29–56 bettongs, were made at three further sites, 4 km apart. Oats were provided at five stations in the large release area and three stations each at two smaller release areas. From May–December 2003 feral cats Felis catus and foxes Vulpes vulpes were intensively controlled in a 500-km2 area by 428 hours of shooting patrols. Bettong visitation at feeders was assessed using 10 track pads/feeder for three one-day periods, four days apart. Persistence was monitored using track counts, camera trapping, warren monitoring and live-trapping.


A replicated, before-and-after study in 2011–2013 in two forest and grassland sites in the Australian Capital Territory, Australia (Portas et al. 2016) found that translocated eastern bettongs Bettongia gaimardi provided with supplementary food in fenced predator proof enclosures did not have greater body weights than those without enclosures and supplementary food. Between twelve and 24 months post-release, the average body weight of translocated eastern bettongs (1.83 kg) did not differ significantly between populations with and without supplementary feeding (weight values for each individual population not provided). Overall, the average body weight of bettongs increased compared to before they were released (pre-release average weight: 1.69 kg). In 2011−2012, sixty adult eastern bettongs were translocated from Tasmania to two predator-free fenced reserves. In one reserve bettongs (5 males, 7 females) received supplementary food at least weekly and were placed in 2.6-9.4 ha enclosures, whereas in a second reserve bettongs (8 males, 10 females) received no supplementary food and were not managed in enclosures. Supplementary food included fresh locally available produce and commercial pellets. Body weight was assessed before reintroduction and 12–24 months after release (May–November 2013). Bettongs were also monitored by radio-telemetry or camera traps and live-trapping every 3 months.


A controlled study in 2007–2012 in a grassland reserve in Corrientes, Argentina (Di Blanco et al. 2017; same study site as Di Blanco et al. 2015) found that after being provided with supplementary food and kept in holding pens, captive-bred giant anteaters Myrmecophaga tridactyla released into the wild were less nocturnal in their activity patterns than were wild-born rehabilitated and released individuals. Released captive-bred giant anteaters were proportionally less active at night than released wild-born animals (43% vs 70% of activity records were at night). During 2007–2012, three captive-bred and four wild-born adult giant anteaters were released into a 124-km2 private reserve. Wild-born animals were rehabilitated after being injured by hunters or in road accidents. Six anteaters (all wild-born and two captive-bred anteaters) were released after spending a short period of time in a 0.5 ha acclimatisation pen. The remaining 12 anteaters spent 7-30 days in a 7 ha holding pen at the release site prior to release. Supplementary food was provided in the holding pen, and for several weeks after anteaters were released. Each of the seven anteaters was fitted with a radio-transmitter and tracked for one or two 24 h periods/month in 2007 and 2011. The released anteaters were further monitored using 14 baited camera traps for an average of 336 days/trap in 2008–2012.


A study in 2015–2016 in a wooded mountain region in central Wales, UK (MacPherson 2017) found that some translocated pine martens Martes martes held in pre-release pens and then provided with supplementary food and nest boxes survived and bred in the first year after release. At least four out of 10 females that had been kept in pre-release pens survived and bred the year after release. Around 10–12 months after release, 14 out of 20 martens were alive and in good condition. Twelve were within 10 km of their release site. Six martens died in the first year, two had a fungal infection two weeks after release. Authors suggest this may have been due to damp conditions in November. From September–November 2015, twenty breeding age (>3-years-old) pine martens were caught in Scotland, health checked, microchipped and fitted with a radio-collar, and in some cases a GPS logger. Martens were transported overnight to Wales, and held in individual pre-release pens (3.6 × 2.3 × 2 m) for up to seven nights. Males’ pens were within 500 m of a female, but >2 km from the nearest male. Releases took place in autumn, and supplementary food was provided for 2–6 weeks after release (for as long as it continued to be taken). Den boxes were provided within 50 m of each release pen. Martens were radio-tracked until home-ranges were established, then located daily–weekly. Intensive tracking of females was carried out in March to locate breeding sites. Hair tubes and camera traps were used to monitor breeding success. A further 19 martens were released using the same procedure in September–October 2016.

Referenced papers

Please cite as:

Littlewood, N.A., Rocha, R., Smith, R.K., Martin, P.A., Lockhart, S.L., Schoonover, R.F., Wilman, E., Bladon, A.J., Sainsbury, K.A., Pimm S. and Sutherland, W.J. (2020) Terrestrial Mammal Conservation: Global Evidence for the Effects of Interventions for terrestrial mammals excluding bats and primates. Synopses of Conservation Evidence Series. University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.