Twenty-two tonnes of cereal laced with pesticide have been dropped on the Galapagos Islands over the past week to get rid of a rat menace that has seen 10 rats pack every square meter on the island of Pinzón.
In the biggest raticide in South American history, the Ecuadorian government, working with conservation groups, has masterminded a drop of $1.8m (£1.2m) worth of large blue rat poison pellets on two Galapagos islands - Pinzon and Plaza Sur - in an attempt to purge the islets of all rodents, the Guardian reports.
Rats tucking into blue cereal cubes of death, credit Bell Labs
Rats brought in by ships destroy other species by eating tortoise, iguana and bird eggs, damaging one of the most biodiverse areas in the world.
The project has to succeed completely:
"The rats cause a great deal more damage than the poison," Linda Cayot, science adviser for Galápagos Conservancy told the Guardian. "They have decimated 100% of tortoise hatchlings for the past 100 years. If we miss even one pregnant female, it won't succeed."
Restricting the damage of the huge poison dump in a sensitive bio-diverse area has been a top priority: hawks and iguanas have been evacuated from the islands. Thirty hawks from Pinzon were captured and will be kept in safe cages for two months until the after-effects of the poison have dissipated. Hawks are at risk from eating poisoned rats.
Speaking to the Reg, pesticide makers Bell Labs said they had specially formulated a Galapagos poison targeted to the unlucky rats of the island, a variation on their off-the-shelf products.
The poison is a Bromadiolone-based anti-coagulant which works on rats over a period of 1-2 weeks. It comes in the form of blue cubes that will be scattered over the island twice a day for a week by GPS-guided helicopter. The scattering started Monday. Brady Hudson, Bell Labs' UK manager explained to the Reg:
The main issue with bait [on Galapagos] is that we have make it attractive to rats but not other species; we make the bait big so birds are less likely to eat it, and in terms of the colour we also make it less attractive to birds.
Smaller-scale raticides have taken place in other Galapagos islands. And if the rat-killing is successful on Pinzon and Plaza Sur, it will be carried out on bigger islands. Some 95% of the Galapagos Islands have a rat problem. ®