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Invasive Mouse Attacks Increasing on Southern Ocean Islands

I have just returned from the second World Seabird Conference (#WSC2) held in Cape Town, South Africa at the end of October. The conference held by the World Seabird Union was an opportunity to learn all about the great research and conservation being undertaken on these incredible animals. I gave a ‘state of the environment’...

I have just returned from the second World Seabird Conference (#WSC2) held in Cape Town, South Africa at the end of October. The conference held by the World Seabird Union was an opportunity to learn all about the great research and conservation being undertaken on these incredible animals. I gave a ‘state of the environment’ report on island conservation in the Western Indian Ocean.

Grey-headed albatross juveniles with mice injuries (Photo by Ben Dilley)

Following the conference, new reports have revealed a devastating increase in the rate and magnitude of impacts of invasive mice on seabirds of islands around South Africa. Since 2001 reports, and horrific video of invasive mice depredating albatross emerged from Gough Island, in the South Atlantic. More recently reports have also emerged from Marion Island in the southern Indian Ocean, revealing horrific scalping of seabirds by mice. Personally, I find these images really, really disturbing.

Mouse attack
Mouse attack (Photo by Stefan Schoombie)

The emergence of this behaviour has just been documented in the journal Antarctic Science, and is fascinating in so far as like on Gough the behaviour appears to have spontaneously evolved across the island and is likely culturally transmitted between individuals. It has been hypothesisesd that the independent emergence of this behaviour on two islands now is related to scarcity of other over-exploited food resources under changing climate regime pressures.

Mouse attack
Mouse attack (Photo by Stefan Schoombie)

Thankfully, this behaviour has not been documented yet on Antipodes Island, but as South Africa ornithologist Peter Ryan states, “Given their widespread impacts on other biota (especially invertebrates), mice should be eradicated from islands wherever possible.” This is exactly why the Antipodes Island mouse eradication is planned for winter 2016, to spare the seabirds of Antipodes Island from this horrific behaviour ever emerging.

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Meet the Author

James Russell
Conservation biologist Dr. James Russell works throughout the world on remote islands and other sites to provide conservation solutions by applying a combination of scientific methods. Follow James on National Geographic voices for regular updates on his own work or other exciting developments in island conservation.