Invasive species: The 18-km2 rat trap
Ecuador has successfully eradicated invasive pigs and goats from most of the Galapagos archipelago. Now it is taking on the rats.
The helicopter appears as a speck on the horizon, moving slowly on a dead-straight path over the black volcanic island. Beneath it hangs a huge metal cone: an industrial-scale hopper that is sending a steady stream of blue pellets raining down on the scrubby landscape of Pinzón, one of the Galapagos Islands.
Erin Hagen watches through her binoculars. She is standing on the deck of the Sierra Negra, one of three vessels moored just off the island on this morning in November 2012. When the helicopter reaches the rocky shoreline, it changes course, heads across the ocean and hovers just above the boat. At Hagen’s instruction, a team of conservationists comes to life. Two men stand by to service the hopper. Three others prepare to reload it with more than 400 kilograms of poisoned rat bait. Within three minutes, the loading is complete and the helicopter is heading back to lace Pinzón with more toxic bait. “It’s kind of like a pit-stop,” explains Hagen, a project manager for Island Conservation, an international non-governmental organization with expertise in the eradication of invasive species. “There’s a real buzz from everyone.”
Five years ago, most of the major islands and smaller rocky outcrops in the Galapagos were home to a plague of invasive mice and rats. The rodents feed on the eggs and young of seabirds, land birds and reptiles, and have brought several species — including the rare Pinzón giant tortoise (Chelonoidisduncanensis) — to the brink of extinction. In 2007, the Galapagos National Park Service (GNP) and the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) developed an initiative code-named Project Pinzón, a military-style plan-of-action to kill invasive rodents on three islands — starting with North Seymour (1.8 square kilometres), then moving on to Rábida (5 square kilometres) and, finally, Pinzón (18 square kilometres) — plus around a dozen smaller outcrops and islets (see ‘Rat race’).
Posted on: May 11, 2015
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Coastal Conservation is comprised of staff and technical advisors with significant expertise in biological systems and invasive species eradications around the world.Read More