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LEARNING FOR LIFE: TRAINING MARSUPIALS TO RECOGNISE INTRODUCED PREDATORS

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image of Behaviour

Raising endangered species in captivity for reintroduction necessarily results in animals that lack appropriate skills for coping with problems to be faced in the wild, such as predators. Using classical conditioning techniques involving linking fear of a live dog with the image of a fox, we demonstrate an adjusted fear response for two wallaby species (rufous bettongs Aepyprymnus rufescens, quokkas Setonix brachyurus). No differences in response to the fox were found for wild-caught and captive-born bettongs, even though wild-caught subjects were likely to have encountered canids prior to capture. Attempts to condition a fear response by quokkas to an odour were unsuccessful. An attempt to induce fear of the stuffed fox by linking to fear of humans in quokkas was unsuccessful, but quokkas generalised from fear of the dog to fear of the fox, despite a delay of several weeks. Trained dogs offer a valuable and ethically acceptable mechanism for improving the ability of captive-reared (or sequestered) animals to recognise and cope with predators.

Affiliations: 1: Dept of Zoology, University of Western Australia, Nedlands, WA 6907, Australia; Dept of Zoology, University of Canterbury, P.O. Box 4800, Christchurch, New Zealand; Natural Heritage, Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority, West Perth, Perth, WA 6005, Australia; 2: Dept of Zoology, University of Western Australia, Nedlands, WA 6907, Australia; 3: Ecosystem Management, University of New England, Armidale, NSW 2351, Australia; 4: Dept of Biology, Queens University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada; 5: Dept of Psychology, University of Western Australia, Nedlands, WA 6907, Australia

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