Poisoning the Galapagos Food Chain

By: Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Commentary One of the greatest threats all of the rare and unique creatures on the Galapagos Islands face is rats. There are an estimated 180 million rats on these islands—the majority of which are on the island of Pinzon. The Galapagos Islands were made famous by the British biologist Charles Darwin who studied all of the different species of animals on the islands. These rare and unique animals are now in danger of being killed off by rats. The rats might eat the eggs of the birds or kill the young brood of iguanas and amphibians. Rats were accidentally introduced to the islands in the 17th Century by Spanish and Portuguese wooden ships. The rats simply swam to the islands and began to reproduce. The islands passed into the ownership of Ecuador when it became independent of Spain in 1822. From time to time the Ecuadoran government has used various means to kill the rats. Ecuador may have been successful in reducing the number of rats, but it has never been totally successful in eradicating them.

This time the Ecuadoran government is dropping poisoned pellets onto the islands. The pellets emit a sweet small that attracts the rats which consume them. The poison then goes to work in the rats’ digestive system and kills them. That is the intention. However, there is one very dangerous problem with the pellets. The poison will stay in the rats’ body. This means that any predator that eats the rats will also digest the poison. The poison will then be carried through into the food chain and begin to cause extensive damage to not only the rare and unique species in the Galapagos Islands but also into the general food chain on the islands. This could kill off the very rare and unique species on the islands that are supposed to be protected. Or it might destroy the reproductive organs to eventually cause the extinction of these species. Since these pellets are being dropped by airplane, there is also the danger that these pellets could accidentally spill into the fresh water supply and thus taint the water which all animals on the islands use. I have to ask myself whether the Ecuadoran government really thought this one out carefully?

What they could have done is consulted with experts in the United States, and especially California, about the best way to get rid of the rats. The State of California also had a serious rat problem. What they did instead was use specially developed poison blocks that rats nibble on and which kills them in minutes. Since the poison acts quickly and breaks down in the body, it will not poison those predators who eat the rats. Since these poison blocks have to be placed by hand, there is no chance of these ending up in the fresh water supply. These things may cost a whole lot more money, but we are talking about protecting one of the greatest natural wonders of the world. Surely, is this not worth the money?

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