Death from AboveThe Galapagos Islands are a world treasure of biodiversity, and have a huge historical and scientific importance as Charles Darwin's inspiration for his work on evolution by natural selection. But unfortunately, invasive species of rats (Black and Norwegian) are threatening the local fauna and flora, which haven't evolved to deal with them. Many species of birds and reptiles are powerless to stop the rats from attacking their eggs and hatchlings, and some are having trouble feeding because the rats are depleting some plants and other food sources.
Usually, air-dropping over 20 tons of poison from an helicopter on a fragile island ecosystem would be a very bad thing, but in this case, if the alternative is to let the rats - which were introduced by humans in the 17th century - destroy everything else, this sounds like the kind of harsh medicine that is sadly needed. Phase I of this operation took place in 2011, as we reported here, and now Phase II is beginning to hopefully fix the problem by 2020.
PrecautionsPrecautions were taken to avoid poisoning other species, and the actual poison seems pretty high-tech. AP writes:
The poisoned bait, developed by Bell Laboratories in the United States, is contained in light blue cubes that attract rats but are repulsive to other inhabitants of the islands. The one-centimeter-square cubes disintegrate in a week or so. [...]
Asked whether a large number of decomposing rats would create an environmental problem, [the director of conservation for the Galapagos National Park Service, Danny Rueda,] said the poison was specially engineered with a strong anti-coagulant that will make the rats dry up and disintegrate in less than eight days without a stench.
Some hawks and iguanas were also temporarily captured to protect them from the poison. They will be released after the operation.
But what are the chances of success? If they miss some rats and don't completely eradicate them on the islands, they could be back to square one in a few years... Let's hope they succeed, because the Galapagos Islands still have a lot to teach us.