If you’re trying to get rats off an island without damaging the native animals or plants, what’s the best way to go about it? If you’re anything like the brains behind a recent initiative on two islands in Ecuador’s Galapagos archipelago, the answer is simple: Use drones that dispense rat poison.
The North Seymour region in question had been rat-free for more than a decade when two species of rat were detected last year. These rats eat the eggs and babies of local seabirds, as well as damage plants and trees by gnawing on them and eating their seeds.
Starting January 12, a team representing Galapagos National Park Directorate and Island Conservation used two six-rotor drone copters to spread bait laced with rat poison around the islands. Previously, this has been achieved using helicopters, but drones were concluded to be a cheaper method of carrying out the task. A flying vehicle is necessary for this job due to the rugged local terrain, which makes it tough to do by hand. Each drone is able to carry up to 20 kilos of bait for a flight time of 15 minutes.
During the initial flight, mechanical difficulties meant that only half of the required area was able to be treated. A second round of bait distribution will be carried out in the next few weeks. The researchers will then monitor rat activity on the island for a period of two years to see if their mission has been successful or not.
This isn’t the first time that high-tech solutions have been called into action to help get rid of an invasive species. On the Great Barrier Reef, an initiative comprising Australia’s Queensland University of Technology, Google, and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation has launched an underwater robot intended to seek out troublesome starfish and kill them by injecting them with drugs. A single starfish is able to consume up to 65 square feet of living coral reef every single year.
While in most cases, the ideal answer to a problem such as this does not involve culling large numbers of animals, in some situations it’s unavoidable.