Quantcast

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

Animals
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."

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Waterloo Bridge during the Extinction Rebellion protest in London. Martin Hearn / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Money talks. And today it had something to say about the impending global climate crisis.

Read More Show Less
Sam Cooper

By Sam Cooper

Thomas Edison once said, "I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power!"

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

Zero Waste Kitchen Essentials

Simple swaps that cut down on kitchen trash.

Sponsored

By Kayla Robbins

Along with the bathroom, the kitchen is one of the most daunting areas to try and make zero waste.

Read More Show Less
A NOAA research vessel at a Taylor Energy production site in the Gulf of Mexico in September 2018. NOAA

The federal government is looking into the details from the longest running oil spill in U.S. history, and it's looking far worse than the oil rig owner let on, as The New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less
Golde Wallingford submitted this photo of "Pure Joy" to EcoWatch's first photo contest. Golde Wallingford

EcoWatch is pleased to announce our third photo contest!

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Damage at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge from the 2016 occupation. USFWS

By Tara Lohan

When armed militants with a grudge against the federal government seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in rural Oregon back in the winter of 2016, I remember avoiding the news coverage. Part of me wanted to know what was happening, but each report I read — as the occupation stretched from days to weeks and the destruction grew — made me so angry it was hard to keep reading.

Read More Show Less
Computer model projection of temperature anomalies across Europe on June 27. Temperature scale in °C. Tropicaltidbits.com

A searing heat wave has begun to spread across Europe, with Germany, France and Belgium experiencing extreme temperatures that are set to continue in the coming days.

Read More Show Less
Skull morphology of hybrid "narluga" whale. Nature / Mikkel Høegh Post

In the 1980s, a Greenlandic subsistence hunter shot and killed a whale with bizarre features unlike any he had ever seen before. He knew something was unique about it, so he left its abnormally large skull on top of his toolshed where it rested until a visiting professor happened upon it a few years later.

Read More Show Less