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Drones help Galapagos tackle rat infestation

Drones help Galapagos tackle rat infestation

Conservationists in the Galapagos Islands are using drones to help eradicate rats that are threatening populations of indigenous birds.  The drones have dropped poison on nearly half North Seymour Island in an attempt kill of the invasive species. The island is home to many species of rare birds with their nests being on the ground and their numbers are being depleted by the rodent invasion. Use of drones is much faster and considerably cheaper than using helicopters, these methods have been used in rodent eradication products in other areas.

2018 was when the infestation of Brown and Black rats was first discovered and prompted the NGO Island Conservation and the Galapagos' Ministry of the Environment to step up their action to rid the island of the damaging pests.

Rare species of bird, including the Frigate and the Blue-Footed Booby raise their young in nests on the ground enabling rats to prey on them easily. The islands have few trees so it is difficult for the indigenous birds to escape predation. In addition, the rats are also known to eat native plants including Opuntia cactus and Fragrant Palo Santo tree. There are no predators of the rats living on the island, meaning their numbers flourish, the birds mainly eat fish and the land iguanas eat cactus. Island conservation hopes that if the rats can be eliminated, the lava gulls, which are no longer on the island, will return.

Other eradication processes have previously been used, for example helicopters to deliver poison but this was not feasible on North Seymour because of its remote position. Drones can deliver poison much more precisely than is possible with a helicopter. Each drone was flown for roughly 15 minutes and dispensed 20kg of poison.