Ever since reading Robert Sullivan’s Rats, I’ve become convinced that the furry little banes of urban sanitation will someday rule the world. They are like land-dwelling versions of the dreaded zebra mussel, adept at turning a minor incursion into a full-blown invasion before any Homo sapiens are the wiser. And once they’ve conquered a piece of territory, they’re oh-so-difficult to expel—though, granted, not impossible, as evidenced by our recent triumph on Alaska’s Rat Island.
But cousins of those Aleutian critters are now running roughshod in the South Pacific, with devestating environmental results:
With five species of bird found nowhere else on earth, Henderson Island – part of the Pitcairn group – is one of the richest wildlife islands in the world. However, non-native Pacific rats are threatening the future of several of these species. In particular, the rats are killing and eating 25,000 seabird chicks each year, including those of the Henderson petrel – a seabird with its only known breeding sites confined to the World Heritage site, which shares its name.
Plans are afoot declare war on the rats, but heavy weaponry is required—namely a fleet of helicopters capable of evenly coating an entire island in poison. Given Henderson’s remote location, that will likely mean calling in the MV Baldur, the region’s pre-eminent anti-rodent ship, which is essentially the pest control world’s version of an aircraft carrier.
Yes, there are large ships especially dedicated to large-scale rodent eradication. But given the rats’ ingenuity, it should be long before a deckhand on one of these missions is forced to utter those memorable words: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”