Train captive-bred mammals to avoid predators

How is the evidence assessed?
  • Effectiveness
  • Certainty
  • Harms

Study locations

Key messages

  • Two studies evaluated the effects of training captive-bred mammals to avoid predators. One study was in Australia and one was in the USA.



  • Survival (1 study): A randomized, controlled study in the USA found that training captive-born juvenile black-tailed prairie dogs, by exposing them to predators, increased post-release survival.


  • Behaviour change (1 study): A before-and-after study in Australia found that rufous hare-wallabies could be conditioned to become wary of potential predators.

About key messages

Key messages provide a descriptive index to studies we have found that test this intervention.

Studies are not directly comparable or of equal value. When making decisions based on this evidence, you should consider factors such as study size, study design, reported metrics and relevance of the study to your situation, rather than simply counting the number of studies that support a particular interpretation.

Supporting evidence from individual studies

  1. A before-and-after study in 1992 on captive animals at a site in Australia (McLean et al. 1996) found that rufous hare-wallabies Lagorchestes hirsutus could be conditioned to become wary of potential predators. Hare-wallabies spent more time out of sight of a model of a fox Vulpes vulpes or cat Felis catus after being subject to aversive conditioning (37–45%) than before (27–33%). Observations were made on 22 captive hare-wallabies. Training involved either a cat or fox model. One version appeared from a box at the same time as a loud noise and moved across the pen, accompanied by a recording of hare-wallaby alarm calls. The other model version jumped at hare-wallabies that approached to ≤3 m, with the animal squirted from a water pistol at the same time. Initial data collection was carried out over three nights, training (use of aversion techniques) was over three nights and subsequent behaviour in the presence of the model was measured on one night. Experiments were conducted in September–October 1992.

    Study and other actions tested
  2. A randomized, controlled study in 2002–2003 on grassland at a captive facility and at a reintroduction site in New Mexico, USA (Shier & Owings 2006) found that training captive-born juvenile black-tailed prairie dogs Cynomys ludovicianus, by exposing them to predators, enhanced post-release survival. Prairie dogs “trained” using black-footed ferrets Mustela nigripes, red-tailed hawks Buteo jamaicensis and prairie rattlesnakes Crotalus viridis had greater survival one year post-release than did untrained prairie dogs (data not presented). During captive trials, only the hawk elicited fleeing behaviour. The rattlesnake caused trained juveniles to spend more time being vigilant and making alarm noises and to spend less time in shelters than untrained juveniles. In spring 2002, eighteen captive-born juvenile prairie dogs were randomly assigned to training or non-training groups. Both groups had four tests/week for two weeks. Each test involved either a predator stimulus for the training group (live ferret, live rattlesnake or stuffed red tailed hawk, each accompanied by prairie dog alarm calls) or a non-predator control for the untrained group (live desert cottontail Sylvilagus audubonii). Prairie dogs were then released into a vacant colony in June 2002. Post-release survival was determined by live-trapping.

    Study and other actions tested
Please cite as:

Littlewood, N.A., Rocha, R., Smith, R.K., Martin, P.A., Lockhart, S.L., Schoonover, R.F., Wilman, E., Bladon, A.J., Sainsbury, K.A., Pimm S. and Sutherland, W.J. (2020) Terrestrial Mammal Conservation: Global Evidence for the Effects of Interventions for terrestrial mammals excluding bats and primates. Synopses of Conservation Evidence Series. University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.

Where has this evidence come from?

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Terrestrial Mammal Conservation

This Action forms part of the Action Synopsis:

Terrestrial Mammal Conservation
Terrestrial Mammal Conservation

Terrestrial Mammal Conservation - Published 2020

Terrestrial Mammal Conservation

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