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29 July 2005

"mutant mice" attack rare birds on remote Atlantic island

Photo: Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

Reuters Alertnet Foundation
Alerting humanitarians to emergencies

Rare island birds
threatened by "super mice"


Tuesday 26 July 2005 10:30:43 GMT

By Ed Stoddard

JOHANNESBURG, July 26 (Reuters) - "Monster mice" are eating metre-high albatross chicks alive, threatening rare bird species on a remote south Atlantic island seen as the world's most important seabird colony.

Conservation groups say the avian massacre is occurring on Gough Island in the South Atlantic, a British territory about 1,600 kms (1,000 miles) southwest of Cape Town and home to more than 10 million birds.

"Gough Island hosts an astonishing community of seabirds and this catastrophe could make many extinct within decades," said Dr Geoff Hilton, a senior research biologist with Britain's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

"We think there are about 700,000 mice, which have somehow learnt to eat chicks alive," he said in a statement.

The island is home to 99 percent of the world's Tristan albatross and Atlantic petrel populations -- the birds most often attacked. Just 2,000 Tristan albatross pairs remain.

"The albatross chicks weigh up to 10 kg (22 lb) and ... the mice weigh just 35 grams; it is like a tabby cat attacking a hippopotamus," Hilton said.

The house mice -- believed to have made their way to Gough decades ago on sealing and whaling ships -- have evolved to about three times their normal size.

This is a common phenomenon on island habitats -- for reasons much debated among scientists -- where small animal species often grow larger while big species such as elephants display "dwarfism" and become smaller.

In the case of the mice of Gough Island, their remarkable growth seems to have been given a boost by a vast reservoir of fresh meat and protein.

AGONISING DEATH

The rapacious rodents gnaw into the bodies of the defenceless and flightless chicks, leaving a gaping wound that leads to an agonising death. Scientists say once one mouse attacks the blood seems to draw others to the feast.

While predation by oversized mice is unusual, birds on small islands are especially vulnerable to extinction from human activities such as the introduction of alien species.

This is because many birds that have evolved on isolated islands with no predators have become what biologists term "ecologically naive" -- meaning they do not recognise danger from other animals.

Flightless species -- or chicks that cannot yet fly -- are especially at risk. The predatory nature of the mice was confirmed by researchers from the RSPB and the University of Cape Town.

The ground-nesting Gough bunting, a small finch found nowhere else in the world, is also at risk.

Gough Island is the most southerly of the Tristan da Cunha group. There are 22 bird species nesting on the island of which 20 are seabirds.

- 30 -

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anton said...

Oh that's just precious.

I never thought the mouse would become a predator. The world must be coming to an end! All these random earthquakes and terrorist attacks.

That must be it, the end of the world. Do you get that feeling? It just seems like it. Next NASA will lose another shuttle or say something's wrong with the sun. Just watch, it'll happen. I must be a prophet.

Anyway, your comments aren't too political. I enjoy reading them.

I still find it fishy that the Republicans have an almost absolute control over your country. The death penalty, in my opinion, is pointless. People won't learn if you just kill them right away, it's like an easy escape for them. I'm optimistic that in the next term you'll be back to Democrat.

As for the New York plan, that is an excellent idea. I think I'll try doing that in the next few months.

Speaking of refrigerators, I need to get a new one. This one's melting the ice cream.

Have fun at the Festival in Ontario. A close friend of mine is moving down there to study and yes I do think I will miss her. Note, I've never actually seen an actual Shakespearian play.

I commented! And I do believe I should comment more.

04:27  
Blogger Bob Merkin said...

hey Anton! Thanks for visiting Vleeptron again!

You think the world is ending because of the GIANT MUTANT PREDATOR MICE?

You ain't seen nothin' yet. Check out the PLAGUE OF BEAVERS!!!! I just posted it.

And it's all your fault. Those beavers came from Canada!!!! And they're getting ready to DESTROY ALL OF SOUTH AMERICA!!!!

(But they really are cute!)

12:55  
Blogger Joana said...

Bob have you checked the blue lobster??? also a mutant creature

12:28  

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