Saturday, June 07, 2008

From the Seattle P-I: An article that probably won't interest most of you but might fascinate a very select few.

Scottish isle eradicates rats in bid to save birds


LONDON -- The tiny Scottish isle of Canna has successfully eradicated the island's rat population after a three-year campaign to protect the island's seabirds from the rodents, environmental officials said Saturday.

The island's soaring cliffs are ideal nesting grounds and host about 15,000 seabirds from 14 different species, according to the National Trust for Scotland, which manages Canna.

But the birds found themselves under threat when brown rats, accidentally introduced to the island hundreds of years ago, began appearing in greater and greater numbers, something the trust said was probably due to warmer winters.

The rats were devouring the birds' eggs, killing their chicks and devastating many of their colonies. Some birds, like the long-winged Manx Shearwater, were almost driven from the island entirely.

In 2005, the trust brought in a team of pest-eradication experts from New Zealand. Working with volunteers, they laid 4,388 traps out in a carefully plotted grid across the five-mile-long island, rappelling down the sides of cliffs to reach the more inaccessible areas.

Some 25 tons of rodenticide were shipped in to arm the traps, and by early 2006 the island's estimated 10,000-strong rat population had largely disappeared.

Authorities and volunteers have since been monitoring the island by leaving chocolate-flavored wax around Canna and keeping an eye out for the rats' distinctive nibble marks. With no confirmed rat sightings in more than two years, the British Environment Minister Mike Russell declared the island "officially rat-free."

Canna, more than 25 miles off Scotland's western coast, is home to about a dozen people.


  1. Poor rats. Did they really have to kill them all? I am not one to kill rodents. Safely trap and relocate, yes. Kill, no. I think it's a shame that they are "punished" for something that isn't really their fault. Rats can actually make amazing pets and are great with children. It just makes me sad I guess. :(

  2. Yeah, I can understand that. I've heard that rat fanciers are a devoted bunch. And, I have met a couple very friendly rodents in my day.

    I get a bit of a vicious streak though when it comes to rats destroying native bird populations. Take Hawaii, for example. They've lots a vast majority of their native bird populations due to rats, birds that are endemic (not found anywhere else in the world). Alaska islands are also suffering the same fate.

    So I guess in this instance, I'm on the side of the birds. I have a feeling too that we were talking rats in the thousands, too many to safely relocate elsewhere. Also, Norway rats can be a nasty bunch; they're not the friendly little guys that one would find in a pet store.

    The issue to culling invasive animal populations is a touchy one. Washington state is in a crisis right now with sea lions decimating their salmon hatcheries. Canadian geese, crows, and starlings are more of a nuisance, rather than a direct threat to native populations. Actually, I'm not sure about that last statement. I wouldn't be surprised if crows or starlings were having detrimental impact on local birds.

  3. oops. That should be 'lost' (in regards to Hawaii), not 'lots'

  4. I can see that. I guess that question is. We (even if it is ancestors) are the responsible ones for bringing the rats over in the first, do we kill them all off or find a way of curbing their mating abilities. Maybe some sort of catch and release rat sterilization project? :)