Ecuadorian authorities announced plans to kill the estimated 180 million rats that are threatening the irreplaceable birds and reptiles inhabiting the Galapagos Islands. Officials announced the beginning of phase two of the rat eradication project they hope will rid the fragile islands of the non-native invasion of the harmful rodents.
Phase two commenced today on the island chain that inspired Charles Darwin to write his ground breaking book, On the Origin of Species, The plan includes the dropping of 22 tons of specially designed poison bait from helicopters over several of the larger islands in the 19 island cluster located 600 miles from Ecuador.
The ravenous Norway and black rats, brought to the islands by whalers and buccaneers starting in the 17th century, eat the eggs and young of the islands’ native species. Among the many exotic species found on the Galapagos are giant tortoises, lava lizards, snakes, hawks, and iguanas. Many of the creatures found on the island group are not found anywhere else on the earth due to the secluded and inaccessible location of the island before the intervention of man.
“It’s one of the worst problems the Galapagos have. (Rats) reproduce every three months and eat everything,” said Juan Carlos Gonzalez, a specialist with the Nature Conservancy group overseeing the operation on Pinzon Island and the Islet of Plaza Sur.
The poison was developed by Bell Laboratories in the USA. It is contained in light blue cubes that attract the rats but repulse the rest of the island’s wildlife. The cubes crumble and disintegrate after a week of exposure to the elements.
Naturalists were initially concerned about the potential health hazard that might be created by millions of decomposing rats, but the poison is designed to cause the dead animals to dry out and turn to dust in a few days. The chemical is also formulated to reduce any resultant odor to almost undetectable levels.
The cost of Phase two is estimated at $1.8 million and the program is financed by the Galapagos National Park and various nonprofit conservation groups including Island Conservation.
None of the islands or islets are inhabited by humans, and tourism is limited. Visitors to the National Park Nature Preserve must be accompanied by a certified Galapagos National Park guide and follow a strict set of rules designed to protect the islands’ fragile ecosystem.
The Galapagos were named a protected UNESCO Natural Heritage site in 1978. In 2007, UNESCO declared the islands at risk due to harm from invasive species, tourism, and immigration. It is hoped the eradication project will be successful and the islands will slowly return to their former glory as a rare and remarkable example of all the wonders of the natural world.