Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

One of World's Last Great Wildernesses Declared Free of Bird-Killing Rats

Animals
One of World's Last Great Wildernesses Declared Free of Bird-Killing Rats
Penguin colony, St. Andrews Bay, South Georgia. size4riggerboots / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Following a £10 million ($13.5 million) eradication scheme and nearly a decade of work, South Georgia was officially declared rodent-free on Tuesday, the first time since humans arrived on the island more than 200 years ago.

The British territory is one of the world's last great wildlife areas. There you'll find 98 percent of the world's Antarctic fur seals, half the world's elephant seals and four species of penguins—including King Penguins with around 450,000 breeding pairs. The birdlife includes albatrosses, prions, skua, terns, sheathbills and petrels.


However, in the late-18th century, rats and mice started arriving on the island as stowaways on sealing and whaling vessels. The invasive rodents preyed on the eggs and chicks of many of the native birds, including the South Georgia pipit and South Georgia pintail, which are found nowhere else on Earth.

In 2008, conservationists started to plan a "rodent eradication" project to reverse two centuries of human-induced damage, so that millions of birds could reclaim their ancestral home, according to the South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT) and Friends of South Georgia Island, which spearheaded the effort.

The Habitat Restoration Project covered 108,723 hectares (269,000 acres), which is more than eight times larger than any other rodent eradication area ever tackled anywhere in the world.

The project involved three phases of baiting, including aerial baiting with three helicopters and hand baiting. In the final phase, an expedition team called Team Rat spent six months on the island searching for any signs of surviving rats. Three "sniffer" dogs covered a total of 1,504 miles and their two handlers walked about 1,000 miles in search of rats. They deployed more than 4,600 detection devices including chewsticks coated with peanut butter, tracking tunnels and camera traps to check for signs of rodent activity.

A press release noted, "This distance, roughly the equivalent of a return trip from London to Dundee, is all the more impressive given the rugged and challenging terrain of South Georgia. Together, the handlers climbed the equivalent ascent of Mount Everest 8 times over, and the dogs climbed Mount Everest 12.9 times over."

Mike Richardson, the chairman of the SGHT Habitat Restoration Project steering committee, celebrated the success of the rodent-eradication program.

"It has been a privilege to work on this conservation project, the largest of its kind anywhere in the world, and I am immensely proud of what the small charity has achieved—it has been a huge team effort," he said in a statement.

The press release said that no sign of rodents have been detected, with some bird species already showing very dramatic signs of recovery.

Richardson added, "The Trust can now turn its attention and efforts to working with the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands on conservation of a different kind: the conservation and reinterpretation of the island's historic cultural heritage to educate and enlighten future generations about our environment."

New Zealand could be the first country in the world to require its major financial institutions to report on the risks posed by the climate crisis. Lawrence Murray / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 2.0

New Zealand could be the first country in the world to require its major financial institutions to report on the risks posed by the climate crisis.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Patagonia's current logo. Ajay Suresh / CC BY 2.0

Eco-friendly outdoor brand Patagonia has a colorful and timely message stitched into the tags of its latest line of shorts. "VOTE THE A**HOLES," it reads.

Read More Show Less

Trending

The Tyre Collective's patent-pending technology captures tire wear right at the wheel. The James Dyson Award

This year, the UK National James Dyson Award went to a team of student designers who want to reduce the environmental impact of car tires.

Read More Show Less
The USDA and the meatpacking industry worked together to downplay and disregard risks to worker health during the COVID-19 pandemic. RGtimeline / Getty Images

By Brett Wilkins

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the meatpacking industry worked together to downplay and disregard risks to worker health during the Covid-19 pandemic, as shown in documents published Monday by Public Citizen and American Oversight.

Read More Show Less
The United Nations Development Program is piloting an insurance scheme to protect and boost the Meso-American reef in Mexico as a natural defense, and as a source of income for coastal populations. vlad61 / Getty Images

By Andrea Willige

More than half of the world's population lives in cities, and most future population growth is predicted to happen in urban areas. But the concentration of large numbers of people and the ecosystems built around their lives has also been a driver of climate change.

Read More Show Less

Support Ecowatch