Galápagos Restoration Project Achieves Conservation Milestone

Your donations at work – saving the diversity of life in the Galápagos Archipelago

The Galápagos National Park, assisted by Island Conservation, the Charles Darwin Foundation, Bell Laboratories, The Raptor Center of the University of Minnesota, and the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, is working to prevent extinctions and restore altered ecosystems on the Galápagos by permanently removing damaging introduced rodents from key islands. On the 7-8th and 14-15th of January 2011, two treatments of rodent bait donated by Bell Laboratories were applied by helicopter to the islands of Rábida, Bartolomé, Sombrero Chino, North Plaza, the two Beagle islets, and three of the Bainbridge Rocks in the first phase of this project.

 “This project is the first of its kind in South America, and a significant step in the ongoing program to protect the native species of the Galapagos,” said Victor Carrion, who is the Technical Coordinator for the Park. “Previous rodent control efforts by the Park over the past four decades have reduced impacts of introduced rodents in specific zones but this project takes a further step by complete elimination of those impacts and costly ongoing management.”

The islands included in this first phase of the project cover 704 hectares and are home to 12 unique Galapagos species considered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature to be threatened with extinction. These threatened species include, Galapagos penguins and Scalesia stewartii (a tree forming daisy and the plant equivalent of one of Darwin’s finches).

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“Invasive species pose the greatest threat to nature in the Galapagos,” said Felipe Cruz, Director of Technical Assistance at the Charles Darwin Foundation. “We are fortunate to be working with a consortium of international experts in rodent removal techniques to develop lasting solutions to one of the most significant conservation problems affecting the Galapagos.”

According to Bill Waldman, Executive Director of Island Conservation, “The methods we used in this phase of the restoration project operation have been successful on dozens of other islands throughout the world in completely eliminating invasive rodents and providing immediate and sustained benefits to native animals and plants.”

This restoration project included the capture of twenty Galapagos Hawks from the two largest islands involved in the project prior to the start of the operation. The partners, led by the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota, established a holding facility for the hawks on a nearby island. The planning process for this project identified that Galapagos Hawks would face a high risk of feeding on invasive rodents which had consumed rodent bait. To mitigate this risk, the hawks are being held in captivity for approximately two months until the risk period is over.

According to Julia Ponder, Executive Director of The Raptor Center, “the hawk enclosures were designed according to best-practice to minimize stress and injury, and the birds have quickly settled down in their temporary refuge. This brief period of captivity is not expected to impact the birds’ natural behavior and we’ll be monitoring hawks for a year using telemetry back-packs post-release.”

This project builds capacity within the Galapagos National Park to be able to eradicate invasive rodents and prevent imminent extinctions on other Galapagos Islands where rodents are predating on endemic fauna and flora. There are three types of introduced rodent in Galapagos: black rats, Norway rats, and house mice. These rodents on several larger Galapagos Islands have adversely affected reproduction of tortoises, iguanas, and land and seabirds. The partners expect to adapt the techniques used in this first phase to remove rodents from larger islands in the future. In 2008, a pilot project eliminated rodents from the small island of North Seymour.

As rodents can be difficult to detect at low densities, two years of monitoring is standard practice to confirm that the islands are rodent-free.

Contact:

Vanesa García, Head of Public Relations, Galápagos National Park, vgarcia@spng.org.ec  

Hugo Arnal, South America Program Director, Island Conservation, hugo.arnal@islandconservation.org

Gabriel Lopez, Executive Director, Charles Darwin Foundation
gabriel.lopez@fcdarwin.org.ec

Julia Ponder, Executive Director, The Raptor Center,
ponde003@umn.edu

Glyn Young, Conservation Biologist, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust,
Glyn.Young@durrell.org

For more information about the project and island restoration, please visit these partner websites:

Galápagos National Park http://galapagospark.org

Island Conservation http://www.islandconservation.org

Charles Darwin Foundation http://www.darwinfoundation.org

Bell Laboratories http://www.belllabs.com

The Raptor Center http://www.theraptorcenter.org

Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust http://www.durrell.org

To download a .pdf of this press release, click here

About Island Conservation

Island Conservation prevents extinctions by removing invasive species from islands. To date, we have successfully restored 64 islands worldwide, benefiting 1195 populations of 487 species and subspecies. Working together with local communities, government management agencies, and conservation organizations, we select islands that have the greatest potential for preventing the extinction of globally threatened species.

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