Island Once Overrun by Rats Now Buried in Bunnies

Photo: Reuters via the Daily Mail

Four years ago, the tiny Scottish island of Canna had a rat problem. The invasive pests were relentless, threatening the island's native bird colonies and other local wildlife. So, in 2005, the island's 20 residence called in rat-killing experts for help. Around two years and nearly a million dollars later, Canna is rat-free--but their troubles still remain, albeit in a slightly cuter form. As it turns out, the invasive rats were the one thing damping down the island's invasive rabbit population. Without the rats, a bunny-boom has occurred on the island and residents are fed up.According to a report in the Telegraph, the rabbits are "devastating" island monuments and invading local gardens. "There are thousands of them now--it has reached near plague proportions," said one islander. To do its part in staving off the bunny problem, the only restaurant on the island has begun serving bunny-based dishes, like rabbit pie.

The local residents, of course, are no stranger to pests threatening their tiny island home, part of Scotland's Hebrides. In 2005, rat extermination specialists from New Zealand poisoned 4,200 spots on the five mile long island to kill an invasive brown rat. About a year later, around 10,000 rats were dead and the island was declared 'rat-free'.

But with the rats gone, the rabbit population has been able to flourish. Canna resident Winnie Mackinnon told the Telegraph:

I have never known it so bad. It is because the rats have gone and they used to keep the rabbit numbers down. The rabbits don't have a natural predator anymore. We don't want the rats back--but the rabbits have become a major problem.

While the rats may have posed a threat to the island's native wildlife, the current rabbit problem is making life difficult for the human population. "They are in people's gardens - and being so far away from the mainland we rely a lot on growing our own vegetables," says Mackinnon.

Also under attack by the rabbits are several archeological sites on the island. An Iron Age mound is being undermined by the burrowing bunnies, and a hut that dates to the Stone Age is seeing its foundation eroded.

But not all island dwellers are complaining about the sudden spike in rabbits. According to Mackinnon, sea eagles are enjoying the plenty. "They have been having a real feast," she said. "But obviously nowhere near keeping up with the rabbit population."

The Telegraph reports that authorities from the National Trust for Scotland admit that there's a rabbit problem, but insist it has nothing to do with the rat extermination a few years back.

We recognize there is a rabbit problem on Canna as is the case on other Hebridean islands. But we don't believe it has got worse since the eradication of the rats. However we will continue to monitor the situation.

The island's 20 residents will no doubt continue to think of ways to tackle their new rabbit problem--but they're learning all too well about the complex balance of ecosystems. One can only imagine what will rear its head once the rabbits are staved off--a pesky case of invasive carrots?

More on Stopping Invasive Species
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Tags: Animals | Biology | Conservation | Scotland

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