Packard Foundation to Island Rats: DROP DEAD

Rats have made themselves at home on numerous islands around the world — and in the most unpleasant way. An island overrun with rats may sound unfortunate enough to require action, but it gets worse. These rats, which have slowly been inviting themselves aboard ships and onto the islands for the past few hundred years, are now driving native seabirds toward extinction. The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, which is committed to seabird conservation, has supported several projects to remove island rats over the years, and it looks set to continue with this support in the future. (See Packard Foundation: Grants for Marine and Rivers.)

Rats are an "invasive species" in that they are not from the islands, but rather were introduced there (by human boats) and then flourished in their new conditions. Unfortunately, since seabirds did not evolve with rats, they did not develop defense mechanisms against these predators. Instead, rats find seabird eggs and chicks to be easy prey — leaving seabird populations struggling.

Many conservation programs have found island rat removal to be a worthy and effective way to help out local seabirds (the local humans don't appear to mind either). The David and Lucile Packard Foundation has helped to remove rats throughout the South Pacific by funding the work of BirdLife International over several years. Starting in Fiji in 2006, BirdLife and local partners have removed rats from numerous islands, including French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Palau, and the Cook Islands. The rats were removed using targeted poison baits, such that the poison had no effect on non-rat species.

Packard has continued to fund the removal of invasive species with a 2013 grant going to the non-profit Island Conservation. This group focuses on seabird habitats in the Pacific and the Americas. It has successfully removed rats from Rat Island (now known as Hawadax) off Alaska and San Pedro Martir Island off of California. Island Conservation looks primed to continue with its invasive species removal.

Packard continues to identify invasive species removal as a main strategy for seabird conservation. Although this removal can cover species other than rats, these prolific rodents will likely be a target for some time to come. Island seabirds will surely be grateful to not have to deal with these fearsome predators anymore.