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15 Dec, 2021 12:42

Island mouse-hunt turns $9mn failure

Island mouse-hunt turns $9mn failure

A multimillion dollar attempt to eliminate mice from the South Atlantic Gough Island for the sake of endangered seabirds has failed, leaving the island’s conservationists “devastated.”

The remote, uninhabited island, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site was, for a long time, naturally free of predators, therefore serving as a haven for millions of seabirds. But after mice were accidentally introduced to the island in the 19th century, possibly by sailors, it ceased to be an ideal nesting ground for the birds. The rodents began eating chicks, threatening the existence of some species, including the now critically endangered Tristan albatross and the endangered MacGillivray’s prion.

The quickly deteriorating situation prompted the launch of a large-scale and logistically complicated mice eradication project at an estimated cost of around $9.1 million, including $5 million in donations.

Over the summer this year, helicopters spread rodenticide across the island, with land birds temporarily removed into the care of specialists. The operation, branded “one of the most ambitious island restoration programs ever attempted,” was considered successful, until Tuesday. On December 14 the Gough Island Restoration Team announced that it was “devastated to report that following the mouse eradication attempt earlier this year, a single mouse has been spotted via monitoring equipment on the island."

The conservationists admit that they are “deeply upset by this news” because the removal of every mouse from the island was essential “to prevent the loss of more than two million seabird chicks and eggs each year” and to protect endangered species from extinction. They note that although just one mouse has been spotted so far, their experience tells them “that it is unlikely to be the only one.

The Gough Island Restoration Team will continue to monitor the island and assess the situation.