Conservationists will eradicate rats which are “ravaging” a remote Pacific island to save a unique seabird.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) hopes the scheme on Henderson Island, part of the Pitcairn UK Overseas Territory, will prevent the extinction of the Henderson petrel, which is found nowhere else in the world.
Currently, the population of rats, which were introduced by Polynesian settlers, eat 25,000 seabird chicks alive each year and compete with native birds for food on the island.
The RSPB is making plans to remove the rats next year, providing it can raise the remaining £600,000 ($968,000) it needs in donations to carry out the project.
Dr Tim Stowe, the wildlife charity’s international director, said: “Henderson Island in the central Pacific is one of the [most] remote places on Earth. But its wildlife is not immune from problems.
“Non-native Pacific rats, which were introduced by Polynesian settlers, have been ravaging the island’s wildlife.
“Four of the island’s unique bird species have become extinct and the island’s remaining species are vulnerable to extinction unless we remove the rats.”
He said the project, announced as countries gathered in Japan to discuss how to stop declines in species and habitats, was a good example of how falls in wildlife could be stemmed.
There are four species of petrel, dove-sized relatives of the albatross, which nest on Henderson and are at particular risk from the presence of the rats, the RSPB said.
The island’s petrel population is thought once to have numbered 5 million birds, but the rats have shrunk the number to 40,000, and each year 95 per cent of the new chicks are eaten by the rodents.
The island also has four species of unique land birds, the Henderson reed-warbler, the Henderson crake, the Henderson fruit-dove and the Henderson lorikeet and it is hoped their populations will also rise when the rats are removed and they are freed from competition with and predation by the rodents.