Rat Island: Predators in Paradise and the World's Greatest Wildlife Rescue
Rat Island, midway between Alaska and Siberia, was once a sanctuary for seabirds, before shipwrecked rats came ashore and savaged them. It's a familiar scenario repeating across the oceans of the world: innocent island species under attack by foreign predators, and, lately, defended by their would-be rescuers employing radical measures.
Peopled with unforgettable characters and propelled by perilous adventure, Rat Island reveals a little-known and hotly debated practice of killing for conservation.
kingdom of birds. His name was Bob “Sea Otter” Jones, and in 1947, in a faraway island wilderness a hemisphere and six thousand miles north of New Zealand, the sturdy little seaman Jones took up sailing a twenty-foot dory through the storm-battered archipelago of the Bering Sea, as the resident first manager of the Aleutian Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Jones had accepted the Herculean task of managing the Aleutians’ sanctuary of seals and seabirds, gathered on a chain of cold and rocky
to see the darker utility of this lifesaving drug. As a killer of rats, the anticoagulant approach offered immediate advantages over the leading chemical weapons of the day. Strychnine, arsenic, thallium sulphate, and zinc phosphide, among others—acute poisons targeting brain and nerve—produced fast and sometimes violent reactions in their victims. Whatever few rats somehow survived—and there would always be those few—learned a lesson never to be forgotten, or repeated. Those that watched the
rat with nine pups. Through June the bodies continued to pile up. On the 29th, Major and Jones found a single cache of decomposing bodies numbering 148 least auklets. Wandering about on the lava dome, Major and Jones came upon thousands more carcasses and half-eaten eggs and what Jones would describe as “windrows of skulls,” each with a hole through which the brain had been extracted. That year beat the previous year’s record for the worst auklet production in history. “It is an enormous
from my perspective, RH is in much better condition than he was a year ago. Both of us are right, it’s just a matter of timescale.” Unfortunately, it was Merton’s perspective that proved more prophetic. One month later, I received the news from Moorhouse: Richard Henry was found dead on 24 December … He had recently left his normal home range and we were hopeful he might boom. Looks like the stress of getting into condition for a booming season may have been too much for him. Autopsy failed to
Department of Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. Myers, Judith H., Daniel Simberloff, Armand M. Kuris, and James R. Carey. 2000. Eradication revisited: Dealing with exotic species. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 15 (8): 316–20. Nettleship, D. N., J. Burger, and M. Gochfeld, eds. 1994. Seabirds on Islands: Threats, Case Studies and Action Plans. Cambridge: Birdlife International. NHNZ TV. 1989. Island eaten by rats. http://www.nhnz.tv/nhnz_dvds/product/89. Nogales, Manuel, Aurelio Martín,