June 13, 2009

Rat Island Is Now Almost Rat Free

Alaska's Rat Island is finally rat-free, after a Japanese shipwreck spilled rampaging rodents onto the island 229 years ago, decimating the local bird population.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, after dropping poison last autumn onto the island from helicopter-hoisted buckets for a week and half, there were no signs of living rats and some birds returned.

Rats have ruled the island since 1780 when they jumped off a sinking Japanese ship and terrorized all but the largest birds on the island.  The incident brought non-native Norway rats, also known as brown rats, to Alaska.

The $2.5 million Rat Island eradication project, which is a joint effort between the U.S. federal government, the Nature Conservancy and Island Conservation, is one of the most ambitious attempts to remove destructive alien species from an island in the world.

Several bird species are now being spotted, including Aleutian cackling geese, ptarmigan, peregrine falcons and black oystercatchers, and they are starting to nest again on the 10-square-mile island.

Bruce Woods, a spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage, said that it is too soon to say that Rat Island is definitively rat-free, because that can only be established after at least two years of monitoring.

"We don't know that there's not a couple of happy rats hiding away that are going to spring out and repopulate the island," he said.

Photo Credit: Island Conservation / Sarah Abel


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