Eradication in Galapagos Islands

* Aerial baiting operations on Pinzon
Island, Galapagos.  Photo: AP

QUITO, Ecuador (AP Frank Bajak) — The unique bird and reptile species that make the Galapagos Islands a treasure for scientists and tourists must be preserved, Ecuadorean authorities say — and that means the rats must die, hundreds of millions of them.

A helicopter is to begin dropping nearly 22 tons of specially designed poison bait on Pinzon island (1812ha), launching the second phase of a campaign to clear out non-native rodents from the archipelago.
The invasive Norway and black rats, introduced in the 17th century, feed on the eggs and hatchlings of the islands’ native species, which include giant tortoises, lava lizards, snakes, hawks and iguanas. Rats also have depleted plants on which native species feed and have critically endangered bird species on the 19-island cluster 1,000 kilometers from Ecuador’s coast.

Phase I of the anti-rat campaign began in January 2011 on uninhabited Rabida island and about a dozen islets. The islands where humans reside, Isabela and Santa Cruz, will come last.

The largest island in the Galapagos group is Isabela – at 4640 sq. km area it is seventeen times bigger than Great Barrier. The Galapagos group carries a human population of 25,000, with 12,000 in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz.

The rat infestation has now reached about 10 per square meter on Pinzon, an estimated 180 million rodents.

The current $1.8 million phase of the project is financed by the national park and nonprofit conservation groups including Island Conservation.

The Galapagos were declared protected as a UNESCO Natural Heritage site in 1978. In 2007, UNESCO declared them at risk due to harm from invasive species, tourism and immigration.