New artificial intelligence-driven pest trap could be game-changer for native species

A new trap for pests driven by artificial intelligence is expected to be a game-changer in the fight to protect native wildlife.

It can instantly tell friend from foe - only killing predators, while leaving indigenous animals and domestic pets alone.

A pile of dead furry ferals beneath the trap is evidence it's working well.

The world-first technology uses artificial intelligence to identify if what's sticking its head inside is a pest.

"The camera uses a form of image recognition to analyse the animals that are going into it," said Boffa Miskel project lead Helen Blackie.

"This is the first trap we are aware of that's able to think for itself."

The automatically re-setting trap has a long-life lure inside. It's taken five years of development, and the AI camera has been trained to recognise different birds and predators.

That's been done through testing at Auckland Zoo, using 'dummy traps' with no kill mechanism so when a native bird goes in for a peek the trap won't activate.

"Within a few seconds it's able to make a decision about whether it's a native species or one of its key target pest species," Blackie said.

Its target is rats, possums and stoats. And it's a game-changer for Predator Free 2050 because conventional traps are designed to prevent native species getting inside and getting killed - like the kea which are renowned for getting into trouble.

"They're very problematic for traps because they can activate them," Blackie said.

But by using AI the trap has a much more open design.

"Animals will be more willing to come into these traps and interact with it, and that's what is really critical. What we're finding is many species are becoming quite scared of traps," Olivia Rothwell, research and development project manager at Predator Free 2050 said.

Technology is crucial in achieving our ambitious goal of being predator-free by midcentury - the group's recently announced more than $1 million for new science research which will have a big focus on rats - the trickiest predator of them all.

But even rats can't outsmart AI.

"That enables us to be able to put these traps across the whole country. That's what's really important about this innovation," Rothwell said.

The traps can last over a year without needing servicing. Knocking off our predators to protect our precious species.