Project to eliminate mice from south Atlantic island fails

Huge £9.1 million project to eliminate mice from south Atlantic island to stop them eating critically endangered albatross eggs ends in failure after rodent is spotted by camera

  • Conservationists used helicopters to drop mouse poison on Gough Island in April
  • Mice had been eating albatross chicks alive on the island
  • Rodents are responsible for killing an estimated 2 million seabirds a year
  • But a solitary mouse was spotted on a camera, meaning the attempted extermination in the name of conservation did not work 

A £9.1million RSPB project to blitz a south Atlantic island of rodents appears to have ended in failure – after a solitary mouse was spotted on a video camera.

Described as the conservation equivalent of putting a man on the moon, conservationists used helicopters to drop mouse poison all over Gough Island.

The site is one of the world’s most important nesting sites for seabirds in the South Atlantic.

It is a haven for critically endangered Tristan albatross, and the endangered MacGillivray’s prion.

Mice had been recorded eating albatross chicks alive on the island.

In all, the rodents are responsible for killing an estimated 2million seabirds a year, which is why they had to be exterminated in the name of conservation.

Described as the conservation equivalent of putting a man on the moon, conservationists used helicopters to drop mouse poison all over Gough Island. Pictured: A mouse on the island

Helicopters were used to drop poisoned bait on remote spots of the island while seabirds were gathered in to protect them from the airdrops.

The mice are not native, but accidentally brought to the island on ships by sailors in the 19th century, and many of the birds nest on the ground.

The operation to rid the island of mice took place in April this year.

It would only have been considered a success if the island could be shown to be mouse free by 2024.

The RSPB said in a statement: ‘Today, Tuesday 14 December, the Gough Island Restoration Team is devastated to report that following the mouse eradication attempt earlier this year, a single mouse has been spotted via monitoring equipment on the island.

‘We are deeply upset by this news and know that the many people who supported us in our endeavour to restore the island will be equally saddened. It matters because the removal of every mouse from Gough Island was necessary to prevent the loss of more than two million seabird chicks and eggs each year and to protect endangered species like the Tristan albatross from extinction.’

The RSPB said in a statement: ‘Today, Tuesday 14 December, the Gough Island Restoration Team is devastated to report that following the mouse eradication attempt earlier this year, a single mouse has been spotted via monitoring equipment on the island.’ Pictured: An albatross on the island

Beccy Speight, chief executive of the RSPB said: ‘This was one of the most ambitious island restoration programmes ever attempted, bringing together experts from around the world to protect globally endangered seabirds in what many would consider one of the most remote and difficult to reach locations on Earth. 

‘With over a decade of planning and given the logistics involved, this has been the conservation equivalent of landing on the Moon.

‘We needed to take this urgent action to save millions of eggs and chicks from predation, prevent extinctions and to undo the damage caused by mice which humans unwittingly allowed onto the island in the past. 

Pictured: RSPB staff load cereal pellets filled with rodenticide into a bucket, preparing to spread it across the island 

‘We are confident that through this partnership we put everything in place to give the project the best chance of being successful. Although only one mouse has been sighted so far, unfortunately experience would tell us that it is unlikely to be the only one.

‘Although it appears we have fallen short of our target, it is too early to know what this means or just how much time we might have bought the seabirds of Gough. We are continuing to monitor the island and assess the situation.

‘The situation at Gough and threat to the unique seabirds of this island only serve to underline the importance of effective biosecurity measures on currently predator-free islands to prevent invasive species arriving in the first place and devastating native wildlife, and the need for island restoration projects to protect affected species from extinction.’ 


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