Remote island near Antarctica overrun with a million mice that eat rare seabirds

Albatross/mouse in grass
Albatross/mouse in grass - stock photo.Neale McLanachan / 500px/ Elena Zaretskaya (Getty Images)
  • Mice are breeding out of control and eating seabirds on Marion Island.

  • The Mouse-Free Marion project plans to eradicate the rodents with rodenticide.

  • The project needs to raise $25 million in funding to go ahead.

A remote island near Antarctica is planning to mass exterminate a huge population of house mice that are harming the local ecosystem and wiping out rare seabirds, The Associated Press reported.

Mice on Marion Island, one of the Prince Edward Islands, which sit between Cape Town, South Africa, and Antarctica, have been breeding out of control and causing significant damage to the island's "unique biodiversity," per the report.

"They are probably one of the most successful animals in the world. They've got to all sorts of places," Anton Wolfaardt, the Mouse-Free Marion project manager, told The AP.

The Marion Island house mice invasion began in the early 1800s when they escaped from seal hunter ships and became the island's first mammal predators.

The mice feed on the seabirds — both chicks in their nests and adults — despite it being a fraction of their size. Conservationists on Marion Island photographed a mouse sitting on the bloodied head of a wandering albatross chick feeding.

Mice preying on seabirds is a rare phenomenon only recorded an a handful of islands, AP reported.

Rising global temperatures are behind the soaring numbers of mice on the island, part of South Africa, leading the creatures to seek out alternative food sources such as seabirds.

"The mice found many of the seabirds had no defense against their attacks and were literally 'sitting ducks,'" the Mouse-Free Marion project, which aims to remove house mice from the island, says on its website.

According to BirdLife International, the Prince Edward Islands are home to millions of seabirds from 29 species, including penguins.

The Mouse-Free Marion project says that 19 of the breeding seabird species on the island will face local extinction unless some action is taken soon.

"This incredibly important island as a haven for seabirds has a very tenuous future because of the impacts of mice," Wolfaardt said.

That's why the project is planning to use helicopters to spread 550 tons of "rodenticide bait" across the island, which it says is "the only method that has so far proven successful in eradicating rodents from large islands."

Keith Springer, Mouse-Free Marion's operations manager, previously told the Guardian that their plans were important for the island and the wider region.

"Marion Island's seabirds are members of a regional seabird community innately connected to the functioning and health of the sub-Antarctic region," he said.

There are estimated to be over a million mice on Marion Island, The AP report said.

Previous efforts to reduce this number, including introducing cats, proved ineffective and compounded the issue, with thousands of feral cats killed 500,000 seabirds a year until they were eliminated with a feline flu virus, per The AP.

The Mouse-Free Marion project now needs to raise $25 million for its proposal, which would likely begin in 2027 if all goes to plan.

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