Magazine article Earth Island Journal

Cats out, Birds Back

Magazine article Earth Island Journal

Cats out, Birds Back

Article excerpt

One of the world's rarest seabirds has returned to its original home on Ascension Island nearly 180 years after it was wiped off the island by feral cats.

In November, ornithologists spotted two Ascension frigatebirds sitting on nests on the remote, volcanic island in the South Atlantic. The two birds are the first of the species to breed on the island since Charles Darwin visited in the early nineteenth century. Ascension Island is a British territory.

Until now, the birds had survived only in a small colony on nearby Boatswain Bird Island a--one-square kilometer rocky outcrop--where they were considered to be highly vulnerable to outbreaks of disease. Their return to the island after which they are named has raised hopes that the vulnerable bird may be rescued from extinction.

The news marks the success of a project that has cost British taxpayers more than 500,000[pounds sterling] (812,610) and has involved the eradication of hundreds of feral cats that had been eating frigatebird chicks.

"We are absolutely overwhelmed," says Derren Fox, a conservation officer on Ascension. "We thought it would take decades for the Ascension frigate to come back and breed after we had got rid of the island's feral cats. But we have already succeeded after only a few years. This suggests we have a real chance of saving the Ascension frigate."

The project's success also raises hopes of saving colonies of other species threatened by feral animals. These include populations of seabirds and amphibians on Montserrat, Gough Island and South Georgia, which are all ravaged by rats, mice, and other wild creatures. …

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