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Uvic study: Barking dog sounds to scare raccoons; helps in improving ecosystem

Raccoons on BC’s Gulf Islands spend their day and night-time on the shoreline, consuming seafood, affecting the intertidal ecosystem. Researchers have found that the raccoons can be scared off using barking dog sounds.

These medium-sized mammals are native to North America, has been living in abundance, ever since humans killed off its natural predators in the islands. Justin Suraci, study author and University of Victoria Ph.D. candidate said that they barely look up from foraging, and they found that raccoons substantially reduce their foraging when they perceive the presence of scary dogs all around them. Researchers found that the beach came back to life, when the raccoons became more wary of the open landscape.

Suraci said that there was a 66 percent reduction in shoreline eating, and that was sufficient to benefit the carbs and fish that they eat. For years, ecologists have pointed out the role of large predators in the ecosystem. They said that the fear of large predators can keep the prey in check, in turn protecting the smaller plants and animals that the prey eat. Dogs are the only remaining predators of raccoon on the island.

Suraci and his team set up five speakers around five beaches that played a range of sounds, including barking dogs and sea lions. While the raccoons ignored the sea-lion sounds, they feared the perceived presence of dogs. Suraci added that humans have done an excellent job of wiping out large carnivores across the globe and we’re only starting to understand what the consequences of that are.

However, the sounds will only be able to scare the raccoons for a few months as they will overcome the fear. The actual reintroduction of raccoon’s natural predators like wolves, bears or cougars would help in the long-term change, he added. The study has been published in Nature Communications.

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