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A Rare Seabird Returns -- After Feral Cats Are Trapped, Killed

Interference in an island ecosystem has caused a big species imbalance. The cats are the big losers.

 |  Dec 17th 2012  |   8 Contributions


The Royal Society for the Preservation of Birds was terribly excited to share the news that the frigatebird, one of the rarest seabirds in the world, had returned to British territory of Ascension Island, located in the South Atlantic Ocean. What they didn’t say, though, was what they did to make the island more seabird-friendly.

Frigatebird and chick by Shutterstock

The island’s population of feral cats was killed in a program that cost the preservation society and the British Foreign Office more than $800,000.

The program began in 2006, when the society instructed island residents who owned pet cats to collar and microchip them. Then they set traps, and any uncollared and unchipped cat was doomed.

But it wasn’t even the cats’ fault that they lived on Ascension Island. It started when the British colonists who settled the island also brought rats -- a common fixture on sailing ships. When the rat population got out of control, they brought cats in to kill the rats. The cats apparently began to kill frigatebird chicks once they ran out of rodents, and eventually (whether because of feline predation or human interference) the frigatebird was almost extinct on Ascension Island.

Cat in a cage by Shutterstock

So what happens now that the cats are dead and gone? The rats will come back, and they’ll start eating bird eggs and chicks. Then the preservation society will probably do what it’s doing on South Georgia, another UK territory in the South Atlantic: scatter rat poison from helicopters in hopes of killing off the rats before they've killed all the birds.

The conservationists don’t seem to mind the “collateral damage” created by this approach. They acknowledge that at least some birds will die from eating rat poison.

I guess it’s okay if birds die a gruesome and agonizing death after ingesting rat poison, but heaven forbid that the slowest and weakest birds are killed quickly by cats hunting for a meal.

When will people learn?

Source: Care2

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