Conditioned Taste Aversion may help farmers with predators

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    By Heather Cameron

    Rancher A, 34, looked to the reintroduction of wolves with skepticism. Stories passed on from his father told of the horrors of wolves entering the flocks, killing as many as fifty sheep a night.

    ?I have never had to deal with them,? Rancher A said from his ranch located near Logan, Utah. ?I?ve had predators like coyotes, but nothing like wolves.?

    Following hearings by state and federal officials on the reintroduction of wolves in to the state, he remained skeptical, His skepticism continued when he heard recently of tests being done on deterring wolf packs through conditioned responses.

    ?I?ll believe it when I see it,? he said.

    Conditioned Taste Aversion suggests a possible solution to fears of reintroducing wolves into Utah. Some scientists stand by CTA, while others doubt the ability to implement it.

    The reintroduction of the wolf 10 years ago in Yellowstone National Park brought fear to ranchers, because their livestock could became the object of prey. Within the past few years, there have been reported wolf sightings in Northern Utah as they slowly dispersed from the national park.

    The Utah legislature has already accepted a policy on wolves in anticipation of their expected arrival. The policy gives ranchers the right to kill wolves if their livestock is ever harassed or attacked on public or private land.

    Others, including environmentalists and conservationists, think the wolf should be protected at all costs, considering that it has been on the endangered species list for several decades.

    CTA is posed as a possible solution to protect both wolves and livestock and was originally theorized by scientist Carl Gustavson.

    In 1974 he and several colleagues discovered coyotes could be deterred from attacking sheep by feeding lamb meat that had been tainted with a small amount of poison to coyotes. After eating the meat, the coyotes became sick and avoided preying upon sheep, associating lamb meat with an ill feeling.

    He concluded that the coyote developed a conditioned disgust for the taste and smell of lamb. This aversion to sheep occurred in all the experiments and lasted the duration of the study.

    CTA is similar to the response people develop when they go to a restaurant and get sick from the food. They will not likely go back because in their mind they associate the restaurant with that bad experience.

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