Researchers have happened upon a clever new way to fool a notorious kiwi-killing predator - by using its own sense of smell against it.
Experiments by Auckland University and Landcare Research have revealed that stoats, the major killer of young kiwi chicks in the wild, are attracted to the smell of their two biggest enemies, cats and ferrets, raising the possibility of using their scent as a lure for traps.
It was a finding that surprised university doctoral student Patrick Garvey, who was expecting the stoats to be scared away by the smell of the larger predators, instead of being drawn to them.
This was because an earlier study he led had found captive wild stoats to be scared when cats or ferrets were near.
In the new study, food was placed in two locations where the scent of cats or ferrets was absent, and also in another area where scent was present.
Garvey found that in the area that smelled of predators, the food was actually eaten faster.
Despite the baffling finding, he felt the research represented an untapped area of predator control, effectively using mammals' tendencies to hunt by smell against them.
The ability of stoats and many other mammals to "eavesdrop" on the olfactory communication system of larger predators could be the beginning of the search to develop odour-based lures in pest trapping operations, he said.