An investigation into missing rat carcasses has identified a Wellington cat burglar as the prime suspect.
The grey and white south coast cat, nicknamed Smokey, may be impressing its owners with its hunting prowess but, when it comes to cornering its prey, this predator is just plain lazy.
Pest control company Good Nature, in conjunction with researchers funded by Callaghan Innovation, set up traps at Houghton Bay to protect nesting penguins and monitor how many pests were in the area.
The trap works when a pest, attracted by a peanut butter lure, sets off a trigger that in turn activates a gas-propelled bolt and kills the animal instantly. It then resets itself for the next pest.
But when researcher Rachael Abbott and Good Nature account manager Sean O'Brien went out to the 11 traps to do a head count, they found the numbers were not adding up.
Over eight weeks, more than 80 rats and mice were killed, according to the trigger count - but only 43 per cent of the bodies could be found.
So they rigged some traps with motion-activated cameras - and saw Smokey and his gang patrolling the trap line, sometimes returning three or four times a night to collect their takeaway snacks.
"We've had some fantastic results," Abbott said. "There's far more pests here than we expected in this area."
The size of the rats has also exceeded expectations, with one beast, named Frosty because he's now in Good Nature's freezer, 40 centimetres long.
The traps were developed for conservation purposes, but Good Nature has recently put them on general sale, to allow homeowners to protect their property against rats and possums.
Abbott is also working with about 35 Wellington households to monitor how useful the traps are in homes, and to make any necessary modifications.
As for Smokey, his gang headquarters remains a mystery - but O'Brien said he would love to track him down, if only to find out what his owners have made of the presents he brings them.
- The Dominion Post
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