AboutZoos, Since 2008


Caribbean Island launches plan to remove inva­sive rats and goats

pub­lished 05 August 2016 | mod­i­fied 06 August 2016

Starv­ing goats and preda­tory rats to be removed from Redonda to restore this Caribbean island to its for­mer glory.

The Gov­ern­ment of Antigua and Bar­buda has announced plans to remove goats and inva­sive rats from its most rugged and remote off­shore island to allow endan­gered wildlife and their habi­tats to recover.

Redonda is home to a unique array of plants and ani­mals, includ­ing rare lizards found nowhere else in the world. The unin­hab­ited and sel­dom vis­ited island is also for­mally recog­nised as an Impor­tant Bird Area, sup­port­ing globally-​significant num­bers of seabirds.

Recent stud­ies have iden­ti­fied Redonda as the most impor­tant island to restore in the East­ern Caribbean due to its Crit­i­cally Endan­gered wildlife and the high prob­a­bil­ity of last­ing success
Sophia Steele, East­ern Caribbean Project Coor­di­na­tor, Fauna & Flora International »

How­ever, the island’s plant and ani­mal pop­u­la­tions are dis­ap­pear­ing fast thanks in large part to its pop­u­la­tion of over 5,000 aggres­sive black rats (an inva­sive alien species) which prey heav­ily on the island’s wildlife. Together with the herd of long-​horned goats that was brought to Redonda by humans more than a cen­tury ago, these mam­mals have trans­formed this once-​forested island into a moon­scape. So few plants sur­vive that even the goats now face starvation.

Redonda IslandThe Island of Redonda lies south of Nevis and north of Montser­rat in the Lee­wards Islands,West Indies. This is a view from the south.
Credit: Invert­zoo, Wikipedia. Cre­ative Com­mons Attribution-​Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Redonda is over 50 hectares in area and rises dra­mat­i­cally from the Caribbean Sea, 56 km south-​west of Antigua. Goat skele­tons lit­ter the island, along with the relics of stone build­ings from a guano min­ing com­mu­nity that lived here until the First World War. With few trees left to sta­bilise the ground, soil and rocks are crum­bling into the sea, threat­en­ing nearshore coral reef in the waters below.

We can­not stand by and watch as a part of our coun­try, part of our his­tory, dis­ap­pears. We can­not be respon­si­ble for dec­i­mat­ing ani­mal pop­u­la­tions on a regional scale,” says local con­ser­va­tion­ist Natalya Lawrence of the Envi­ron­men­tal Aware­ness Group (EAG).

The Redonda Restora­tion Pro­gramme has been formed by the Antigua & Bar­buda Gov­ern­ment and EAG in col­lab­o­ra­tion with part­ners from the UK (Fauna & Flora Inter­na­tional, British Moun­taineer­ing Coun­cil), USA (Island Con­ser­va­tion) and New Zealand (Wildlife Man­age­ment Inter­na­tional Ltd).

I am immensely proud that my min­istry has been a dri­ving force in the devel­op­ment of this major ini­tia­tive,” says Hon­ourable Mol­wyn Joseph, Min­is­ter of Health and the Envi­ron­ment. “Restor­ing Redonda to its full glory will be a great achieve­ment for our country.”

Translo­cat­ing goats and exter­mi­nat­ing the rats
One of the first steps will be to cap­ture and move the remain­ing goats to Antigua, where they will be cared for by the Depart­ment of Agriculture.

The goats are starv­ing to death on Redonda and must be removed for their own sake,” explains Ast­ley Joseph, Deputy Direc­tor of the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture. “We believe it is impor­tant to res­cue this rare breed because it could have use­ful drought-​adapted genes that would ben­e­fit other herds on Antigua and elsewhere.”

Rats will then be erad­i­cated using a roden­ti­cide bait that has pre­vi­ously been used to restore more than 20 other Caribbean islands with­out harm­ing native wildlife. This is sched­uled to be com­pleted by mid-​2017.

We and other inter­na­tional organ­i­sa­tions have offered our sup­port because we recog­nise that this is a very chal­leng­ing yet glob­ally impor­tant ini­tia­tive” says Sophia Steele, East­ern Caribbean Project Coor­di­na­tor at Fauna & Flora Inter­na­tional. “Recent stud­ies have iden­ti­fied Redonda as the most impor­tant island to restore in the East­ern Caribbean due to its Crit­i­cally Endan­gered wildlife and the high prob­a­bil­ity of last­ing success.”

The new pro­gramme is funded by the UK Government’s Dar­win Ini­tia­tive, the National Fish and Wildlife Foun­da­tion, the Tau­rus Foun­da­tion and pri­vate spon­sors. Addi­tional tech­ni­cal and in-​kind sup­port is being pro­vided by Caribbean Heli­copters and Syn­genta Crop Pro­tec­tion AG.

Dr Helena Jef­fery Brown of the Depart­ment of the Envi­ron­ment says, “Antiguans and Bar­bu­dans will be proud as Redonda becomes a role model for regional bio­di­ver­sity con­ser­va­tion. This will be yet another exam­ple of how this coun­try is proac­tive in meet­ing the national and inter­na­tional com­mit­ments it has made to con­serve biodiversity.”

Brown boobyAntigua and Bar­buda has a wealth of expe­ri­ence and suc­cess under the ongo­ing Off­shore Islands Con­ser­va­tion Pro­gramme which has, since 1995, removed rats and other inva­sive pests from 15 islets closer to Antigua in the North East Marine Man­age­ment Area. This has saved the Antiguan racer — once the world’s rarest known snake — from extinc­tion, and enabled an incred­i­ble recov­ery of other native ani­mals and plants. Many tens of thou­sands of res­i­dents and tourists now visit and enjoy Antigua’s pest-​free islands every year.

The envis­aged result on Redonda is not only sup­ported by the effect of erad­i­cat­ing inva­sive species on the other off­shore islands of Antigua, but also by the con­clu­sion of the first ever global study quan­ti­fy­ing ben­e­fits of inva­sive mam­mal erad­i­ca­tion as a con­ser­va­tion mea­sure. Con­tin­ued invest­ment in inva­sive mam­mal erad­i­ca­tions on islands offers a highly effec­tive oppor­tu­nity to stem the loss of our world’s bio­di­ver­sity a 30-​member team of sci­en­tists con­cluded. The study pub­lished on 12 April in the jour­nal PNAS, titled “Invasive-​mammal erad­i­ca­tion on islands results in sub­stan­tial con­ser­va­tion gains,” exam­ined how native species responded to projects that erad­i­cated inva­sive mam­mals from islands. The researchers found 596 pop­u­la­tions of 236 native species on 181 islands ben­e­fited from these eradications.

I am most excited to see the pro­gres­sion of recov­ery on Redonda once the threat of inva­sive species is removed,” says local biol­o­gist Andrea Otto, who will be part of the research team doc­u­ment­ing the recov­ery process. “I want to see which types of veg­e­ta­tion spring up first and which birds return. From what we have seen on the smaller islands we have restored, the trans­for­ma­tion will be incredible.”

(Source: Fauna & Flora Inter­na­tional press release, 21.07.2016; BirdLife Inter­na­tional news, Con­ser­va­tion Sil­ver Bul­let?, 21.03.2016))

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