Visitors to the Galapagos Islands learn about the island’s fragile ecosystem and the need to protect the lives of its endemic animals. But not every animal life is sacrosanct on these islands just 600 miles off Ecuador’s west coast. Certain rodents that start with pointy snouts and end with skinny, sparsely-haired tails are not welcome. Now, thanks to drone technology, rats have been eradicated from the Galapagos.
Rats first hitched a ride to the Galapagos on ships visiting in the 19th and 20th centuries. Winding up in a place where they faced no natural predators was like winning the rat lottery. The rodents quickly got busy eating eggs and nestlings and gnawing on and eating the seeds of rare plants. According to Island Conservation, rats contributed to the extinction of 86% of the Galapagos’ wildlife.
The recent drone activity isn’t the first time people have tried to wipe rats off the face of the islands. But this is the first time it seems to have worked. Starting in 2019, the Galapagos National Park began dropping rat bait made by Bell Laboratories from drones equipped with dispersal buckets. Now, Seymour Norte Island and Mosquera Islet are rat-free. More bait was left in stations along the coastline, in case a rat army rallies and attempts to recapture the island.
“After two years of waiting, we can declare these islands are free of rodents,” Danny Rueda, director of the Galapagos National Park, said in a statement. “This project has given the expected results, according to the planning and according to the highest protocols for these cases. Galapagos, once again, is a benchmark in terms of the protection of this globally important ecosystem.”
While inventors started fooling around with the great-great-grandmothers of drones in the early 1900s, modern drones careened into public awareness in the 1990s. Now, drones are used to monitor ecosystems and wildlife in many ways, including detecting illegal deforestation in the Amazon rainforest and checking on dolphin health by collecting spray from their blowholes.
Images via Island Conservation, credit Andrew Wright