Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

Another step reached towards ridding Gough Island of its killer mice and saving the Critically Endangered Tristan Albatross

It is now surely well-known that the introduced House Mice of Gough Island in the South Atlantic are wreaking havoc amongst its birds up to the size of the near-endemic and Critically Endangered Tristan Albatross Diomedea dabbenena, whose chicks are literally eaten alive by the mice every year.

Following a 2006 review of the impacts of introduced rodents on Tristan da Cunha and Gough (a United Kingdom Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic) a feasibility study was undertaken by John Parkes of New Zealand and published on-line by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) in 2008.  The study recommended what research still needed to be undertaken before an eradication effort should be attempted.  Over the last three years researchers on the island have been conducting this work.  Activities have included investigating whether mice living in caves and lava tunnels would be exposed to poison bait dropped by helicopter (the answer seems to be yes), and how best to protect sufficient numbers of the two endemic land birds (a bunting and a moorhen) from the risks of both primary and secondary non-target poisoning.

Last year two island eradication experts from New Zealand, Chris Golding and Nick Torr, visited the island during the relief of the South African weather station to obtain the necessary on-site experience to write a preliminary operational plan for mouse eradication. This document has now been made available on line.  It sets out in detail a work plan and a timeframe for what the plan considers will be an "extremely challenging" operation.  However, the current efforts to rid Australia's larger Macquarie Island of mice (and of rats and rabbits) (click here) should help with a Gough eradication through the experience gained.

This year the RSPB is intending to rid Henderson Island, part of another United Kingdom Overseas Territory (Pitcairn) of its rats (click here for project details and newsletters).

Research on the seabirds and mice on Gough is supported financially by the UK's Overseas Territories Environment Programme (OTEP) and the Darwin Initiative and logistically by the South African Department of Environmental AffairsOrnithological research on Gough Island is conducted with the approval of the Tristan Conservation Department.  In previous years research on ACAP-listed species on Gough has also been supported financially by the Albatross and Petrel Agreement, Birds Australia, the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators and the Royal Naval Bird Watching Society.

With thanks to Richard Cuthbert for information.

References:

Angel, A. & Cooper, J. 2006.  A review of the impacts of introduced rodents on the islands of Tristan da Cunha and Gough.  RSPB Research Report No. 17.  58 pp.

Parkes, J. 2008.  A feasibility study for the eradication of House Mice from Gough Island.  RSPB Research Report No. 34.  51 pp.

Torr, N., Golding, C. & Cuthbert, R.[J.] 2010.  Preliminary operational plan for eradicating House Mice from Gough Island. Version 1.0.  Sandy: Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.  73 pp.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 12 June 2011