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

A general view of the flooded St. Mark's Square after an exceptional overnight "Alta Acqua" high tide water level, on Nov. 13 in Venice. MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP / Getty Images

Two people have died as Venice has been inundated by the worst flooding it has seen in more than 50 years, The Guardian reported Wednesday.

Read More Show Less
Supply boats beside Aberdeen Wind Farm on Aug. 4, 2018. Rab / CC BY 2.0

President Donald Trump doesn't like wind turbines.

In April, he claimed they caused cancer, and he sued to stop an offshore wind farm that was scheduled to go up near land he had purchased for a golf course in Aberdeenshire in Scotland. He lost that fight, and now the Trump Organization has agreed to pay the Scottish government $290,000 to cover its legal fees, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
A verdant and productive urban garden in Havana. Susanne Bollinger / Wikimedia Commons

By Paul Brown

When countries run short of food, they need to find solutions fast, and one answer can be urban farming.

Read More Show Less
Trevor Noah appears on set during a taping of "The Daily Show with Trevor Noah" in New York on Nov. 26, 2018. The Daily Show With Trevor Noah / YouTube screenshot

By Lakshmi Magon

This year, three studies showed that humor is useful for engaging the public about climate change. The studies, published in The Journal of Science Communication, Comedy Studies and Science Communication, added to the growing wave of scientists, entertainers and politicians who agree.

Read More Show Less
rhodesj / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Cities around the country are considering following the lead of Berkeley, California, which became the first city to ban the installation of natural gas lines in new homes this summer.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Rebecca Burgess came up with the idea of a fibersheds project to develop an eco-friendly, locally sourced wardrobe. Nicolás Boullosa / CC BY 2.0

By Tara Lohan

If I were to open my refrigerator, the origins of most of the food wouldn't be too much of a mystery — the milk, cheese and produce all come from relatively nearby farms. I can tell from the labels on other packaged goods if they're fair trade, non-GMO or organic.

Read More Show Less
A television crew reports on Hurricane Dorian while waves crash against the Banana River sea wall. Paul Hennessy / SOPA Images / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope

Some good news, for a change, about climate change: When hundreds of newsrooms focus their attention on the climate crisis, all at the same time, the public conversation about the problem gets better: more prominent, more informative, more urgent.

Read More Show Less
U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Mike Braun (R-Ind.) met with Bill Gates on Nov. 7 to discuss climate change and ways to address the challenge. Senator Chris Coons

The U.S. Senate's bipartisan climate caucus started with just two members, a Republican from Indiana and a Democrat from Delaware. Now it's up to eight members after two Democrats, one Independent and three more Republicans joined the caucus last week, as The Hill reported.

Read More Show Less