The Cats or the Rats? Eradication of Cats on Ascension Island Makes Way For Rat Infestation

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The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is currently witnessing a potential catastrophe on Ascension Island, which serves as a focal point in the South Atlantic for tropical seabird nesting.

The island is considered as an overseas territory under the hands of the UK. In 2002, the organization eradicated all cats from the island so as to help in preserving endangered Frigate birds, which are based in tropical and sub-tropical oceans.

Hundreds of cats were removed, poisoned and or trapped on the island for the sake of these endangered birds.

By the year of 2006, the island was confirmed to have been cat free. However, a domino effect came into play rapidly as a result of no cats, rats started to thrive on the island, eating sooty terns eggs and chicks.

The population of sooty terns has experienced a major drop. Dr Jim Reynolds from the University of Birmingham described about rat population to have “exploded” ever since the cats had been cast-off from the island.

Take into account that the sooty terns populations have already been under threat for approximately the past six decades.

Statistics show their numbers have dropped by about 84% within that time frame. To add to these numbers, a population of over 20 million has drastically been brought down to 11,000 in the past 150 years, and the blame has mainly been thrown onto cats and mice.

Dr. Reynolds added to this ongoing conflict by saying “Rats grow and grow and get bigger over time so where they would not have bothered terns in the past, now they are taking their chicks and eggs.”

Other perspectives on the matter have surfaced, with no real hard faced facts as to the actual source of the problem, because there appear to be several catalysts to this skirmish.

The Director of Conservation and Fisheries of Ascension Island, Dr. Judith Brown, claims that climate change is one of the leading causes behind this matter, since guava and Mexican thorn plants have seen exponentially increasing on the island, the rats use them as a means for lodging themselves in and as a source of food.