Rat Invaders: Islands Fighting Back Against Killer Rodents
Since the furry stowaways landed here aboard sealing and whaling ships in the 19th century, they've been wreaking ecological havoc on the island and its ground-nesting seabirds by preying on the birds and their eggs.
Enter an international team of wildlife biologists, who have recently completed the second phase of history's largest rat-eradication program on the remote island.
Braving appalling weather in the run-up to the Antarctic winter, the group's helicopter pilots logged hundreds of hours in perilous flying conditions to spread nearly 200 tons of rat poison over 224 square miles (580 square kilometers) of South Georgia's coastline.
The ultimate goal: To rid this once supreme seabird habitat of its millions of rats once and for all. South Georgia was probably the richest seabird-breeding area in the world when British Captain James Cook visited it in 1775, according to Tony Martin of the University of Dundee, who leads the rat-eradication campaign on behalf of the South Georgia Heritage Trust. (See more pictures of South Georgia.)
Now the island has less than one percent of its original seabird population, he said. "And that is down to rats. This is a human-induced problem, and it is down to humans to do something about it."
And they are. This recent bait drop follows a successful trial two years ago, which cleared 10 percent of South Georgia of the invasive rodents. Next year, Martin said, the group plans to return and finish the job, hopefully rendering South Georgia rat-free by 2015.