Invasive Species, Eradication Efforts, Success Story

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Jane Tansell, one of the two handlers responsible for the rodent detection dogs, looks on from the background as a seal stares down the camera on South Georgia Island earlier this year.
Oliver Prince/Courtesy of South Georgia Heritage Trust

These three pairs of words in the post title, placed together in this order in a search engine, produce some interesting results from around the world. And today we find one more to add to the database. Thanks to National Public Radio (USA)’s Colin Dwyer for sharing this story:

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The South Georgia pipit, seen posing for a glamour shot earlier this year, had been among the species hardest hit by the island’s invasive rodents.
Ingo Arndt/Courtesy of South Georgia Heritage Trust

There are no other birds quite like them in the world. The South Georgia pipit and pintail are so distinctive in the grand pantheon of ornithology, in fact, they draw their names from the one place they’ve made their home: South Georgia Island, sitting lonely in the forbidding South Atlantic not far from Antarctica.

Yet even in such a remote location, surrounded by penguins, fur seals and seemingly endless ocean, the birds have long been besieged by tiny alien invaders: rodents. Since the first European ships arrived in the late 18th century bearing rodents as stowaways, the voracious predators have devastated the South Georgia birds — which, with no trees to nest in, must make their vulnerable homes on the ground or in burrows.

Now, after more than two centuries, those invaders have been rebuffed.

The South Georgia Heritage Trust announced Wednesday that the island is once more rodent-free, following an international effort that dates back a decade. Using poisoned bait strewn from aircraft and three sniffer dogs, the team confirmed that nearly 400 square miles have been cleared. The SGHT says that’s more than eight times larger than the Australian island that used to hold the record for such an eradication.

“I must say we were being overly ambitious, almost, in thinking that as a small nongovernmental organization based in Scotland, we could take on this massive task,” Mike Richardson, chairman of the trust’s steering committee, tells NPR.

But it had help.

With the “absolutely amazing” support of the U.S.-based Friends of South Georgia Island, which carried out the vast majority of fundraising, the project managed to bring in more than $13 million. It used that money to deploy several helicopters and thousands of other, simpler devices — as simple as peanut butter spread on a “gnaw-stick” — to attract the brown rats and house mice to their untimely doom.

Added to these instruments, the terrain of the area itself helped, too: Its many glaciers and snowfields posed impossible obstacles to the movement of these hardy creatures, essentially making what Richardson calls “a group of islands within an island” that team members could tackle one by one.

Still, they were facing down a formidable foe.

“When you’re dealing with the dear old brown rat,” Richardson notes, “you’re dealing with one of the most successful mammals on the planet. It can more or less live anywhere, more or less eat anything.”

Well — make that two formidable foes: One can’t forget the very weather in South Georgia, Richardson adds, “which can be absolutely ferocious” and threatened to completely derail one of the project’s four major expeditions to the subantarctic island years earlier.

“We had parked two of the helicopters ashore — we thought safely. They were tied down. We came back the next day and found one helicopter had had its blades snapped off and the other was half-buried in the gravel, just simply through the weather conditions. At that stage, we thought this is going to be a failure for this year.” he says, adding that though they lost one of those choppers, “we managed to retrieve the situation and keep going.”…

Read the whole story here.

One thought on “Invasive Species, Eradication Efforts, Success Story

  1. I get it about invasive non-native species however I’m one of the few that have compassion for any animal who suffers. I see here that poisoned baits were used which obviously I don’t agree with. Why must manKIND always resort to such violent ways and tendencies? Are we not civilized enough to make better judgements and decisions when others (no matter how much lesser a life form it may be) lives hang in the balance? Apparently not.

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