Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Winning the Rat Race

Winning the Rat Race
01 Aug
2015
Following a landmark eradication project, South Georgia is on the brink of a major conservation success story – being able to declare itself rat-free

As much as 95 per cent of South Georgian birdlife is estimated to have been killed since mice and rats first scurried off ships in the 18th century. Their ruthless predatory instincts made it impossible for many birds to successfully nest, leading to species such as the South Georgia pipit and the South Georgia pintail – both unique to the area – surviving only by breeding on small rat-free offshore islands.

However, the first pipit nest in over 200 years was recently observed in the west of the island – traditionally a highly rodent-infested area. Project Director Tony Martin (also Professor of Animal Conservation at the University of Dundee) is optimistic that the island can soon be officially declared rat-free. ‘I spent days traipsing across the island looking for rodent signs; we found none,’ he says. ‘South Georgia is now genuinely, I think, free of rats.’

ratSouth Georgia rat (Image: Paula O'Sullivan)

As reported by Geographical in 2012, The £7.5million programme saw 290 tonnes of rodenticide-infused bait pellets, manufactured to survive the extreme wet conditions of the islands, distributed by three helicopters across 1,050 sq km of South Georgian coastline.

They also had to race against the rapidly melting glaciers along the centre of the island, which previously acted as natural barriers against rodent migrations. The melting exposed more land for the rats to inhabit, requiring the bait to be spread over an increasingly wide area, to the point where it was becoming unfeasible. ‘This whole project would not be possible in five years time,’ admits Martin.

A follow-up survey will be conducted in late 2017, which the South Georgia Heritage Trust hopes can be followed by an official confirmation that the islands are indeed rat free. However, Martin stresses it will be far longer before the islands are recolonised by the native bird species. ‘We know it’s going to take many decades, I suggest it could take two or three centuries,’ he says, ‘but it will happen. I shall go to my grave completely confident that it will happen.’

This article was published in the August 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine

Related items

Subscribe and Save!

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Sign up for our weekly newsletter today and get a FREE eBook collection!

geo line break v3

University of Winchester

geo line break v3

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Energy

A type of panel has been invented that can generate…

Tectonics

In the 4th century BC, Aristotle proposed that earthquakes were…

Climate

The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management pledges to achieve net…

Tectonics

Earthquakes from time immemorial have attracted the attention of the…

Tectonics

A planned kayaking expedition in Nepal took on a whole…

Tectonics

Scientists from Bristol University are working in conjunction with EDF…

Tectonics

In the 1930s, Charles Richter developed a simple scale for…

Tectonics

Researchers at Colombia University have answered a question that has…

Tectonics

How prepared can any government or city be against a…

Tectonics

Benjamin Hennig creates a series of cartograms to demonstrate the…

Wildlife

Could grey seals singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star help develop…

Climate

Deep sea expert Dr Alex Rogers explains the importance of…

Oceans

Analysis of coral cores, extracted from coral reefs in the…

Wildlife

Celebrities and animal welfare groups have been expressing their disappointment…

Geophoto

In a series of photographs from his recent trip to…

Climate

In contrast to established wisdom, one group of scientists believe…

Climate

Parkesine, celluloid and Bakelite – the first three kinds of…