Feral pig trap deals with problem at scale

Trevor Rawcliffe and the pig trap he invented. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Trevor Rawcliffe and the pig trap he invented. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
If you were to Google "are feral pigs a problem for Kiwi farmers?", you’d find search results more akin to a horror film than an agricultural pest.

"It’s a murder scene: feral pigs torment residents in New Zealand capital", reads a recent Guardian headline.

"Wild pigs outnumber population of St Bathans and residents are nervous", reads another headline. Luckily Taieri man Trevor Rawcliffe plans to do something about it.

Over the summer of 2022 Mr Rawcliffe began developing a suspended steel cage with a camera and some clever electronics that allows a farmer to trap not just a single pig but a drove of them, at the press of a button from their smartphone.

Mr Rawcliffe got the idea from a YouTube video that showed, through a grainy night vision lens, that many feral pigs could be trapped in one swoop with this gravity-powered structure.

Finding where to buy such a structure was more challenging though: "The video showed something that seemed to work well but when I went to buy one there was nothing available, so I thought about it a couple of days and realised I could build one myself easily enough."

Over the next few months Mr Rawcliffe built the trap for his own property, which backs on to forestry where feral pigs like to hide out.

"They generally come out at night, and they do an unbelievable amount of damage. Just a few of them can rip a paddock to shreds in one night as they root around in the ground looking for plant roots, worms and bugs in the ground."

The self-employed boiler service-maintenance engineer had little trouble fabricating the steel trap that would enclose the targets but working out the electronics was a bit more of a challenge.

"I found that I could buy each of the electronic components but rigging them all together wasn’t easy."

After Mr Rawcliffe tested his invention on his own lifestyle block with success he asked a neighbour if he’d be interested in giving it a go. The neighbour was concerned one of his dogs might end up in the trap, but after seeing how well controlled the trap could be, relented and experienced similar success.

"It was at this point that I realised this might have legs as some type of business," Mr Rawcliffe said.

One of the first people Mr Rawcliffe spoke with about the idea was a friend who works as a contract invasive pest hunter.

"I was a little concerned he would be defensive as this might take away some of his work — he couldn’t have been more positive though," said Mr Rawcliffe, who gathered from the conversation that the problem of feral pigs was so significant and the job of controlling them so challenging that more solutions were needed.

"This was super encouraging and it helped me realise the scale of the problem."

Another element of the trap that was encouraging for Mr Rawcliffe was the humaneness with which trapped animals could be treated.

"There was a minute or two of distress for the animals as they realise they’re trapped but they get used to their new environment quickly."

From that point the animals can be gated into a truck and taken to a place where they will be less destructive.

When asked what was holding him back from shipping traps all over the country, Mr Rawcliffe was quick to point out his need for an electrical engineer to partner with.

"At the moment the trap lacks some automation which will enable the product to be scaled up.

"OK, so you hold the arc welder, your partner holds the soldering iron," I offer.

"Yes, that’s the plan, and eventually the farmer holds the device that springs the trap, and our feral pig horror movie ends peacefully."

— Danny Healy is part of the Business South team that ensures Otago’s tech businesses are supported with funding and expertise from innovation agency Callaghan Innovation.