Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Humans outdone by Rats for causing Extinctions

In case you are one of these people that wants to blame humanity for everything, get a load of this article about the extinctions caused by rats. One island creatively dubbed Rat Island, populated with rats fleeing a Japanese ship, has become completely devoid of the birds that normally would nest there. It's not the only one:

"Rats have all but wiped out the seabirds on about a dozen large islands and many smaller islands in the refuge, which is home to an estimated 40 million nesting seabirds. Puffins, auklets and storm petrels are most at risk because they leave their eggs and young for extended periods while foraging.

Rats have been the scourge of islands worldwide. According to the California-based group Island Conservation, rats are to blame for between 40 percent and 60 percent of all seabirds and reptile extinctions, with 90 percent of those occurring on islands

'Rats are one of the worst invasive species around,' said Gregg Howald, program manager for Island Conservation, which is working with the U.S. government on a plan for Rat Island.."

This has caused a rare turnabout in the scientific community, which is preparing an attempt to wipe out the rats on these islands.

"The state is joining forces with federal wildlife biologists in a multi-pronged attack to drive the rats from Alaska.

State regulations went into effect this fall requiring mariners to check for rats and try to eradicate them if found. Violators face a year in jail and a $10,000 fine. Corporations could be fined up to $200,000.

... mariners [are told] to kill every rat on board, have traps set at all times, keep trash and food in rat-proof containers, use line guards — funnel-shaped devices that go around mooring lines — to keep rats from getting off or coming aboard, and never throw a live rat over the side. Rats are excellent swimmers.

The assault on the rats of 6,871-acre Rat Island could begin as early as next October. The plan — which involves the use of a blood thinner that will cause the rodents to bleed to death — still must be reviewed and sent out for public comment.

Scientists want to see how the project goes before deciding whether to try to exterminate the rats on other islands."

They apparently have had success with this strategy on other smaller islands. I hope they have taken the necessary caution to consider the effect removing the rats might have on the wildlife that has lived among the rats for many generations and possibly adapted to, or become dependent, on them. We need only look at the cane toad fiasco in Austrailia for a reminder of how badly good intentions can go when mankind attempts to change the biological landscape. Still, I remain hopeful.

And for those who are determined to blame all of this on humans anyway on the grounds that the rats would never have made it onto those islands were it not for our ships, by that reasoning, we could extend the blame to whatever actions by ancient species led to human beings in the first place. We may have assisted the rats getting onto the islands, but they did the damage.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am not a tree hugger by any means. It is my opinion that as long as man walks upon this earth, he is going to leave a few footprints in his wake.

However, I sure do hope we can use our powers of reason to be better then rats. I am not entirely optimistic. Evidence is that in many ways the "power of human reason" is overblown. It often seems we continue to act like lesser animals, and only use the "power" to do the damage more efficiently and on a broader scale.