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APOCALYPSE RAT; Hunt to kill millions overrunning tiny UK outpost to save songbird.

Byline: MIKE SWAIN

MILLIONS of rats are to be bombed with poison pellets from helicopters in the biggest rodent extermination blitz in history.

Scientists want to eradicate them from the UK island of South Georgia in the South Atlantic.

Rats are overrunning the remote island and are wiping out bird life by eating the eggs or even the hatched chicks.

The South Georgia pipit, the world's most southerly songbird, is only found there and is threatened with extinction.

Researchers have calculated they need to clear the vermin from more than 300 square miles of the barely-inhabited island, briefly invaded by Argentina in the run-up to the Falklands War in 1982.

That makes it almost 10 times the size of the previous biggest rat-killing programme, on Australia's Macquarie Island. Professor Tony Martin, of the University of Dundee and the South Georgia Habitat Restoration Project director, said: "Killing any rat on an island like South Georgia is a hell of a challenge. If you underestimate their ability to survive, you will fail. I have a huge respect for rats.

"The vast majority of birds that should be breeding on South Georgia have been displaced by rats, which have gone virtually everywhere except the very cold southern coast. We are looking to restore millions, possibly tens of millions, of sea birds."

Ground-nesting birds have little defence against the rats, introduced 200 years ago on sealing and whaling ships.

Prof Martin added: "The exciting thing for me is that what we are going to be doing will reverse two centuries of human impacts on the island."

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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 25, 2011
Words:272
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