Folks Fight Feral Felines For Frigatebirds
Thanks to the Guardian‘s coverage of scientific and environmental issues for this story of success involving collective action on the part of British folk who decided to fix a problem they had inadvertently created starting back in the day when Darwin was voyaging on the Beagle:
…In the early 19th century, Ascension Island was home to more than 20 million seabirds, mainly masked boobies, black noddies, brown noddies and Ascension frigatebirds. The frigatebird was considered to be the most important because it was unique to the island. Adults are about 30 inches in length while males have distinctive red sacs on their chests which they inflate during courtship.
Around 1800, rats – accidently introduced by settlers – began to kill off chicks. Cats were imported to kill the rats but instead joined in the killing of frigatebird chicks. “By the time Darwin visited the island in 1836, there were only a few frigatebirds left and the last few were killed off not long after he left,” said Clare Stringer of the RSPB, which has played a key role in re-establishing the bird on Ascension. Only a small colony of around 10,000 survived on Boatswain Bird Island, a rocky outcrop off Ascension’s east coast which could not be reached by cats.
In 2002, the RSPB – backed with funding from the Foreign Office –launched a programme to eradicate Ascension’s feral cats. “It was slightly tricky,” said Stringer. “We had to avoid killing islanders’ pet cats and kill only feral animals. Owners were told to collar and microchip their pets. Then traps were laid and feral cats caught in these were put down.”
In 2006, Ascension was declared to be free of wild cats. “It has taken six years to get frigatebirds to start to recolonise the island since we got rid of the feral cats and frankly it could have taken much longer,” said Fox, who – with fellow conservation officer Stedson Stroud – has been monitoring the island for signs of the frigatebird’s return. “We now have two nests being tended by parent birds and that should encourage a lot more to settle here in future.”