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Campbell Island Rat Eradication
 

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The New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy programme to rid sub-Antarctic Campbell Island of Norway rats is the largest island restoration project in the world. If successful, it will be a major landmark for New Zealand conservation.

Located in the Southern Ocean 700 km south of Bluff, 11,300 hectare Campbell Island is a significant wildlife refuge. It was made a nature reserve in 1954 and a national nature reserve in 1986. All New Zealand’s sub-Antarctic islands were made a World Heritage Area in 1998.

Norway rats were thought to have first reached the island around the time of its discovery by Europeans in 1810. At the time of the eradication operation, the Norway rat population was estimated to be 200,000, one of the highest densities for the species anywhere.

The rats, along with cats (believed to have died out) have led to the extinction on the main island of at least three landbird species – snipe, pipit and a flightless teal, along with many small seabirds – storm petrels, diving petrels and prions which are now restricted to one or more of the small islands offshore. Most of the larger petrels such as grey petrels and sooty shearwaters have also nearly been wiped out on the main island. Rats have also had a significant effect on vegetation and invertebrates, wiping out many larger insects.

After many years of planning and trials, the rat eradication operation was carried out in July 2001. Poison baits were spread by four helicopters in a logistically complex operation during short daylight hours, bitter winter temperatures and extreme winds gusting up to 240 km/h.

Early indications were that the operation was a success. Radio transmitters were attached to several live rats at the start of the operation, and all were found dead. Final confirmation of the success of the programme will be made at the completion of monitoring in 2004.

If successful, New Zealand will have a huge new predator-free sanctuary for its embattled native species. Among the beneficiaries will be the rare Campbell Island teal, and the Campbell Island snipe. Though extinct on the main island, the snipe was rediscovered in 1997 on a small rock stack off the coast.

Further information about Campbell Island and the background to this operation.


Campbell Island teal. Photo: Garry Norman/DOC.
Campbell Island teal.


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