Any property owner would tell you that dealing with a rat infestation can be very stressful. But, imagine if that infestation reached beyond your home to the entire island on which you lived! It can take as little as one pregnant rat being introduced to an isolated island and the new addition to the local wildlife will explode in numbers, overrunning the ecosystem. This is exactly what is happening on a 455 acre island just off of the Ecuadorian coast. The island is called Seymour Norte. In 2007, environmental conservationists managed to rid the island of a rat infestation which was probably introduced by humans. However, the rodents have returned. Experts believe that the rats managed to return to Seymour Norte by swimming across the water way from a nearby island called Baltra.
The rats are causing havoc to Seymour Norte’s ecosystem. They are known to eat the eggs of both birds and reptiles at alarming rates. Since the rats have no natural predators on the island, they are decimating the populations of indigenous species such as gulls and iguanas. Conservationists are using every available resource to combat this invasive rat infestation. One method that they have adapted is the use of drones as a delivery system for rat poison. The drones are sent out on pre-programmed flights and are able to drop rat poison bombs to within half a meter of accuracy.
The drones being used for this project on Seymour Norte are big. They weigh 55 pounds and use six rotors to carry 44 pounds of rat poison on each trip. The poison pellets are blue because research has shown that blue pellets will not attract birds. It is important that the natural wildlife not be harmed during this procedure. The drones are manually launched from a boat from the ocean but once they are in the air they carry out their bombing runs without guidance.
At one point, conservationists considered using a helicopter instead of a drone. A helicopter was used in a similar manner to eradicate ants from a Nature Conservancy in Santa Cruz but that island was nearly 100 square miles across. Seymour Norte is less than one square mile across which means that it requires a more accurate mode of delivery. Drones are far more accurate in situations like this.
The eradication team says that using the drones for precision bombing is working. They are winning the fight against the rats and are just about to eliminate the island’s rat population. The success of the program is limited by the fact that the invading force won’t just give up. In order to keep the island free from rodents, they must maintain constant vigilance and be on the lookout for more rodents that may try to swim across.