Press Release - Six months after a rat eradication project began for the Aleipata Islands group in Samoa, a follow up visit after the operation reports no sign of the Pacific rat on Nu'utele Island.The valuable native wildlife of Nu'utele and Nu'ulua Islands was considered to be severely affected by the Pacific rat, hence the rat eradication project, budgeted at just over USD 200,000, was developed to help Samoa's natural heritage thrive.
In August last year, a helicopter from New Zealand was deployed to drop brodifacoum rat bait on the two islands in the Aleipata group.
During this follow up visit in March, a team of five from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Government of Samoa and SPREP visited Nu'utele Island taking a full boatload of gear. They divided into two groups to cover key areas, setting a variety of traps, baits, lures and tunnels and searching for rats, their feeding signs or footprints. Encouragingly no sign of the rat was discovered.
"This was very promising, although it's too early to be sure that the rat has been eradicated as six months isn't a long time and there could be a pocket of animals somewhere that we didn't detect. It will need another visit in another six months or so to be more certain," said Dr David Butler, the project adviser.
"I'm very optimistic as there were lots of fruit visible on the ground which the rats would normally have eaten and lots of ground doves."
In 2009 just before the rat eradication operation, over 20 friendly ground doves, one of Samoa's rarest birds, were captured on Nu'utele and held in captivity in a temporary aviary. They were returned to the island once it was determined that the rat baits were no longer a risk to them on the island. The doves in captivity had leg bands placed on them to assist with future survey results.
"With this visit we could count how many birds we saw with and without bands, which gave us an idea that there are now over 100 doves on the island. They have also been breeding since the rat eradication operation as we saw one very young bird so it is looking good for them."
Due to rough seas, the review team was unable to visit Nu'ulua Island this time however a visit is planned in a few months when a lizard survey will take place to discover the effects of the rat eradication on the lizard population.
"The rat eradication is a significant project with two key aims - firstly to show that we can safely remove rats from islands and secondly to show the response of wildlife and the forest to the absence of rats in the environment" said Dr Butler.
"People often say there are not a lot of rats and not much damage is done by them, but it isn't until they are gone that you see the dramatic increase in the birdlife, lizards and tree seedlings in the forest. Rats have a big impact and they need to be addressed."