Desperate measure to save Lord Howe Island's native species
By Kathy Marks in Sydney
Lord Howe, an idyllic island off the Australian mainland, carefully conserves its natural treasures. The World Heritage-listed chunk of rock has strict quarantine laws, and limits the number of tourists who may visit. But its unique birds, insects and plants are under threat from an implacable foe: the black rat. Accidentally introduced in 1918 when a ship ran aground, rats are blamed for the extinction of five endemic bird species.
Wildlife experts warn that 13 other native birds, two reptiles, five plants and numerous invertebrates are at risk. Rats are also a threat to the vital tourism industry, which relies on the island's pristine image.
Now Lord Howe, 500 miles north-east of Sydney, has decided to rid itself of rats and mice - and has put together one of the most radical pest-eradication programmes ever attempted. If the plan is approved, the island will be blitzed with poison from the air.
In order to protect local wildlife, entire populations of native birds will be caught and kept in cages for 100 days for their own protection. All cows and chickens will be slaughtered or shipped to the mainland beforehand, while dog owners will be offered muzzles for their pets, and parents will be advised to keep a close eye on their children.
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