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Seabird Nesting Habitat Saved in the Humboldt Reserve

As Earth Day approaches, Island Conservation will share stories of hope and success in conservation.

The introduction of invasive rabbits devastated native Humboldt Penguin and Diving Petrel populations on Choros and Chañaral, but now species have a chance to thrive.

Six hundred miles north of Santiago, Chile, you’ll find Choros and Chañaral Islands, which are two of three islands that make up the Humboldt Penguin National Reserve.

These unique desert islands not only host a wide variety of threatened native Chilean plant species but were once home to over 100,000 pairs of Endangered Peruvian Diving-petrel and 80% of the world’s Vulnerable Humboldt Penguin population.

The Challenge

For millennia, the seabirds and sensitive desert plants thrived together in the Humboldt Penguin National Reserve. This all changed early in the 20th century when the European rabbit was introduced to the islands. Invasive rabbits stripped bare the herbs and shrubs, occupied diving-petrel nests, and devoured the cactus species that provided shaded nest sites for penguin chicks. When the invasive rabbits moved in, the native seabirds lost their homes.

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Peruvian Diving-petrel burrows on Choros Island, Chile. Credit: Tommy Hall/Island Conservation

The Solution

In 2013, the Chilean National Forestry Corporation (CONAF), in collaboration with Island Conservation, removed invasive rabbits from Choros Island followed by Chañaral Island in 2016.

An important element for the successful confirmation of the project was the participation of Finn, a trained Labrador Retriever, who has contributed to several conservation projects around the world. Finn’s role was to confirm the successful removal of the rabbits from Choros Island.

Outcome

In just under two years of intensive ecological restoration, conservationists redirected two extinction-bound Chilean seabirds toward recovery. CONAF and Island Conservation successfully removed the introduced, damaging rabbit population that was destroying native vegetation and fragile nesting habitat for the Humboldt Penguin and Peruvian Diving-petrel.

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Humboldt Penguin incubating eggs. Credit: Maria Jose Vilches/Island Conservation

This marks the first protected area of its kind within the Chilean Protected Areas Network (SNASPE) to be declared free of invasive vertebrate pest species, an achievement that benefits native wildlife and the eco-tourism industry centered around them.

Featured photo: An adult Humboldt Penguin protecting a nest with two chicks. Credit: Island Conservation

About Anton Nebbe

Anton is a public relations, communications, and change management specialist with two decades of experience in a range of industries. He is a journalist by trade, having earned his qualifications in South Africa and reported on the country's transition into democratic rule. Having grown up in a conservation-minded family in Africa, that passion has stayed with him and he is delighted to volunteer with Island Conservation.

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