Guest essay by Eric Worrall
An Australian ecologist has created and deployed a killing machine, which uses robot technology to identify and spray feral cats with poison. The cats die when they lick the deadly poison off their fur. The feral cats are being targeted, because of the threat they pose to rare and endangered birds.
Robots, lasers, poison: the high-tech bid to cull wild cats in the outback
A trial of ‘grooming traps’ is aiming to eradicate one of the biggest threats to Australian wildlife – feral felines.
It took John Read, an ecologist seven years to invent and produce four of the “grooming traps”. After extensive testing, he has switched on the first one in a nature reserve in south-west Queensland.
“Cats are hard-wired to hunt,” Read said. That means they can kill dozens of animals a night but it also means they are often reluctant to eat baits since they prefer to kill an animal themselves.
“This trap targets the cats’ achilles heel,” Read said. Being fastidious groomers, cats will lick off almost anything that gets on their fur. So Read has developed a trap that exploits their tendency to try to get their numbers under control.
With four laser rangefinders, the trap detects when something moves in front of it. If it’s taller than a cat – perhaps a dingo or a koala – the top rangefinder will be triggered and it shuts down. Similarly, a rangefinder at the bottom needs to be able to see between the cat’s legs, meaning a low-slung animal like a wombat or a quoll won’t trigger it.
Finally, two rangefinders at the front and back of the trap need to be triggered simultaneously, indicating something the length of a cat has moved in front of it.
This device is obviously not quite the deadly Terminator cyborg from science fiction, but it has to be seen as a big step towards building scary autonomous robotic killing machines. Who would have thought an ecologist would come up with something like that? Perhaps we should all start being nicer to our local bird watchers, especially those with an Ecology degree – there is no telling what they are working on in their basements.