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Invasive Species Control Programs Underway on South Georgia Island

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Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) (Credit: NPS)
South Georgia Island is a British Territory in the southern Atlantic Ocean near Antarctica. The island has no permanent inhabitants and is currently occupied only by researchers and government officials. Similar to many island ecosystems, introduced species have led to a decline in the native bird populations of South Georgia Island, such as the South Georgia pipet and pintail. Invasive species control programs are currently underway to eradicate both reindeer and rats from the island in an effort to help bird populations rebound.

A small herd of 10 reindeer were introduced to the island in 1911 by Norwegian whalers as a source of fresh meat. The population has since burgeoned to an estimated 5,000. Reindeer threaten native bird populations through overgrazing, trampling nests, and increasing the rate of soil erosion. Last month, in an effort overseen by the Norwegian Nature Inspectorate and carried out by Sami herdsmen of Norway, 3,500 reindeer were successfully culled. Meat from the culled reindeer will be sold on the Falkland Islands to help offset the cost ($756,600) to carry out the cull. The remaining 1,500 reindeer are scheduled to be culled in 2014.

Rats were introduced to South Georgia Island during the 18th and 19th centuries by sealing and whaling vessels. In the absence of natural predators, the rat population quickly grew and threatens bird populations by consuming both the eggs and chicks of nesting seabirds. Due to the success of a 2011 pilot program, a 4-month long eradication program began in February targeting a 220-square-mile area by air-dropping poison pellets. The effort is being led by Professor Tony Martin of the University of Dundee in Scotland and includes a team of 25 scientists. It is hoped that both of these eradication programs can serve as models for other islands faced with controlling invasive species.

Sources: BBC News (November 29, 2012), BBC News (January 9, 2013), Reuters (March 18, 2013), Greenwire (March 19, 2013).

View the full article from The Wildlife Society's Wildlife Policy News
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