Changing Planet

Galapagos Bombarded with Poison in Effort to Rid an Island of Rats

Ecuador is to begin dropping poison bait to target 180 million invasive rats on Pinzón island and an adjacent islet in the Galapagos archipelago today, the Associated Press reports. “It’s one of the worst problems the Galapagos have. (Rats) reproduce every three months and eat everything,” according to a Nature Conservancy specialist involved in the operation quoted by the news service. Read the full AP report.

The bait has been specially formulated and tested for targeting exclusively at rats, according to conservationists on the project. Galapagos hawks on the island have been rounded up for a period of safekeeping, to prevent accidental deaths from swallowing poisoned rodents.

Today’s mass raticide begins the second phase of an ambitious program to eradicate introduced rats from the iconic Galapagos, an island chain of volcanic cones about 600 miles west of South America. The Galapagos is famous for its unique wildlife, including giant tortoises, marine iguanas, sea lions, albatrosses, and Darwin’s finches. The animals found by Charles Darwin on his visit to the islands in the early 1800s played a formative role in the development of his thinking about evolution.

The Galapagos is also the venue for regular cruises hosted by Lindblad/National Geographic Expeditions. Thousands of passengers on the cruises have supported the Lindblad/National Geographic conservation fund which in turn supports projects such as the eradication of rats and other invasive species from the islands.

Picture of Norway rat courtesy of NPS.

The black rat (Rattus rattus), which was accidentally introduced to the archipelago by pirates and/or whalers in the 17th or 18th centuries, and the brown rat (Rattus norvegicus), are currently among the most serious threats to Galapagos biodiversity, according to the Galapagos Conservancy website. “Introduced rats, both black and brown, wreak havoc among the wildlife of Galapagos by preying on eggs and hatchlings of bird and reptile species, to such an extent that one species of Galapagos tortoise has had no natural recruitment for nearly a century, and some unique bird species have become critically endangered. Their control and possible eradication in specific sites is a major priority for conservation in the islands,” the Conservancy explains.

The Conservancy believes that recent successes in rodent eradications on a number of small- and medium-sized islands “provided conservation managers sufficient knowledge and expertise to carry out the planned rat eradication on Pinzón in 2012, with little risk to native fauna and flora.”


Rat bait is dropped on Rabida Island in 2011. The successful eradication of the rats from the 2-square-mile (499-hectare) island provided conservation managers sufficient knowledge and expertise to carry out the planned rat eradication on Pinzon (7 square miles, or 1,815 hectares), with little risk to native fauna and flora, according to the Galapagos Conservancy. Photo courtesy of Galapagos National Park.


The seven-square-mile (1815-hectare) Pinzon is home to giant tortoises (approximately 100 of the original old natives and an estimated 250 repatriated tortoises ranging in age from 5-40 years old), snakes, lava lizards, hawks and owls, passerine birds including several species of Darwin’s finches, and endemic invertebrates and vegetation, the Galapagos Conservancy website says. “Recent toxicological studies on reptiles and experience in maintaining hawks in captivity during the period of risk (method used during eradication on Rábida and other small islets) have filled those knowledge gaps and helped quantify and mitigate potential risk to non-target species,” the Conservancy says.

“Phase one of the project—assessing the potential risk to non-target species, calibrating the application rate of toxic baits and logistical planning—has been completed. Phase two, the shortest and most expensive part of the work, is the application of approximately 40 tons of bait by means of helicopter. The final phase of the project will be long-term monitoring of ecosystem recovery.”

For a timeline of rats in the Galapagos, visit the Galapagos Conservancy’s Rat Eradication on Pinzon in 2012 website.

12418031_10153900711084116_8462971761216697621_nDavid Braun is director of outreach with the digital and social media team illuminating the National Geographic Society’s explorer, science, and education programs.

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Braun also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship

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Forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. He has 120,000 followers on social media. David Braun edits the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. Follow David on Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn
  • Dr Mitchel W Eisenstein

    I guess we will see if what is theorized in the laboratory, will prove true in the wild. Will birds eat the poisoned rats, and in fact will tortoises eat them? will the poison affect flora and insects?

  • Peter

    I think the solution for rat infestation in the movie Skyfall is more interesting 🙂

  • Pamela Van Pelt

    What about picking up the dead rats’ bodies? I can’t imagine that many dead poisoned rats won’t have an affect on the environment. I wish I felt more confident.

  • Wayne Dequer

    I wonder if previous eradication of feral cats from some islands could have increased the current rat problem?

  • Kungula

    What kind of chemical agent is utilized as the poison?
    The article doesn’t even bother to specify this

  • g kaplan, MD

    Great to learn, so the natural habitat is regenerated. The choice of rodentiscdes however is more dangerous than the rodents. Anticoagulants do not kill instantly. Poisoned rodents are often eaten by: lizards snakes, birds of prey, seagulls, foxes, etc and aquifers can also be contaminated, imperiling fragile ecosystems. Berkeley California, has chosen a new safe rodenticides manufactured by JT Eaton ( bait blocks ) We have no vested interest , only concern for a worse outcome to the islands if the anticoagulants or routine rodenticieds are used.

    JT Eaton bait blocks manufactures a safe rodenticide now used in San Francisco.
    D-CON CONCENTRATE KILLS RATS & MICE, EPA Reg. No. 3282-3 (warfarin)
    D- READY MIXED KILLS RATS & MICE, EPA Reg. No. 3282-4 (warfarin)
    D- MOUSE PRUFE KILLS MICE, EPA Reg. No. 3282-9 (warfarin)
    D- PELLETS KILLS RATS & MICE, EPA Reg. No. 3282-15 (warfarin)
    RID-A-RAT RAT & MOUSE KILLER, EPA Reg. No. 8845-39 (warfarin)
    D- MOUSE PRUFE II, EPA Reg. No. 3282-65 (brodifacoum)
    D- PELLETS GENERATION II, EPA Reg. No. 3282-66 (brodifacoum)
    D- BAIT PELLETS II, EPA Reg. No. 3282-74 (brodifacoum)
    D- READY MIXED GENERATION II, EPA Reg. No. 3282-81 (brodifacoum)
    D- BAIT PELLETS III, EPA Reg. No. 3282-86 (difethialone)
    D- II READY MIX BAITBITS III, EPA Reg. No. 3282-87 (difethialone)
    D- BAIT PACKS III, EPA Reg. No. 3282-88 (difethialone)
    GENERATION MEAL BAIT PACKS, EPA Reg. No. 7173-247 (difethialone)
    DIFETHIALONE BAIT STATION, EPA Reg. No. 7173-283 (difethialone)

    Please send e mails to the person in charge in Galapagos so they do the right thing:

  • Thomas

    Think of all the starving people in Africa that would appreciate a rat soup which has not been tainted with poison.

  • DC Matthews

    Why not drop off a couple/few pairs of endangered cats instead. with plenty of rats to eat not a lot of people to bug em and maybe they will be safe to procreate…
    Fishing Cats also eat rats.
    Iberian Lynx might do well there.
    They can be picked up and redistributed back to home later.
    The poisoning plan maybe faster, but seems too dangerous to other species.

  • undercover

    Brodifacoum has been detected in lava lizards. This compound has marked potential for relay toxicosis.

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