180 Million Rats Targeted For Extinction In The Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands are considered by many to be one of the top travel destinations in the entire world. Located 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean, the islands are famous for their unique wildlife that isn’t found anywhere else on Earth. Those animals were first observed by Charles Darwin on his famous “Beagle” expedition and inspired him to write “On the Origin of Species” in which he first hypothesized the Theory of Evolution. Today, many travelers make the journey to the Galapagos to see the native birds, seals, reptiles and other unusual creatures, but an invasive species of rats now threatens the native wildlife there. In an effort to protect those animals, the Ecuadorian government has begun taking drastic measures to rid the islands of those rats once and for all.

Yesterday marked the start of the second phase of an anti-rat campaign that hopes to dispose of as many as 180 million rodents by the year 2020. Helicopters dumped more than 22 tons of poisoned bait on one of the smaller islands with the hope that it will kill off a significant portion of the rat population there. In the months ahead, similar operations will take place across the other 18 islands that make up the Galapagos chain, hopefully culling the rats and creating a safer environment for the native species.This invasive species of rats first arrived on the islands aboard the ships of whalers and pirates during the 17th century. As the decades passed they multiplied rapidly and grew into a threat to native birds and reptiles, preying on eggs left in unguarded nests. As the rat population grew to epic proportions, other species have struggled to survive and compete with the rodents, which eat everything in their path.

In order to minimize the impact of the toxic bait on the Galapagos ecosystem, it has been specially designed to attract rats while repelling other animals. The small poison cubes will also disintegrate after about a week, which means there won’t be thousands of them just lying around waiting to be consumed. What happens to it, and the environment, after it disintegrates remains to be seen, but lets hope this isn’t another case of the cure being as bad as the sickness down the line.

[Photo Credit: National Park Service]

Where’s The Pied Piper Of Hamelin When You Need Him?

Everyone knows the tale of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, in which the German town was plagued by rats and hired the Pied Piper to take them all away. The Pied Piper led them into the nearby river and drowned them, and then demanded his fee. The city government decided not to pay him, citing budget cuts and the need to curb deficit spending. The piper then piped all the children away. This was a big relief for the city government because they could eliminate the education budget.

Now the city of Hamelin is facing a new plague of rats. Local officials say they’re attracted to the food left out by tourists for the birds. One rat apparently didn’t get his share and instead chewed through a cable powering one of the town’s fountains.

There’s no word if the city will hire another Pied Piper.

Hamelin is a popular tourist attraction and holds re-enactments of the famous story during the summer. It also has a well-preserved Old Town with many elegant buildings dating as far back as the 16th century. The surrounding Weser Mountains Region offers hiking, biking and sights such as the Hämelschenburg Castle.

[Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Adventures in Eating: the Mekong Rat

When is a rat not a rat? I was about to find out at a restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City, the Vietnamese metropolis everyone still calls Saigon. After traveling around this country for two weeks, consuming everything I could and saying no to nothing, I received an education in eating. I didn’t intentionally eat all the “weird” stuff, but if it was offered, I took it.

In this instance, I was eating with a Saigon-born chef and we had our roles: he did the ordering and I did the eating. He apparently had had his mind made up, as I flipped through the menu, the only part of which I could understand were the illustrations of animals in various stages of play or attack–a deer and its offspring canoodling in a prairie, a snake with its jaws ajar, a leaping frog, a weasel–that adorned each page, demarcating the types of meat one could order. Perhaps I just hadn’t gotten to the rat section before the waiter came over to take our order.

Twenty minutes and a few embryonic duck eggs later, there it was, laid out flat on a plate awaiting my incisors. But this was, I was told, no ordinary barbequed rat looking up at me.

Meet the Mekong rat, a delicacy of the eponymous delta in the southern part of the country. The Vietnamese and their southeast Asian brethren have been eating rats for time immemorial, particularly in rural areas. But it’s relatively recently bigger cities are starting to get in on the act, enjoying both Mekong rats and general field variety. One recent report linked the increase of this urban eating proclivity to a need for protein after the bird flu scare. But is a rat a rat in southeast Asia? And by that I mean, is a rat the same rat that we see scurrying around eek’ed out strap-hangers on the subway platform, a scampering symbol of all that is abhorred in our world? A metaphor for the places we fear the most, where we least want to get caught, where only rodents (and their partners in grime, cockroaches) dare go?

Not really. Like other southeast Asians, the Vietnamese are fiercely omnivorous eaters. They don’t waste many animals and plants and they don’t waste much of the plant or animal. Which is a good thing, right? If you’re going to sacrifice the life of a living thing for food, why throw out part of it? It’s probably something the West will never be able to fully endorse. At least not until we’re all speaking Chinese.

So, not wanting to waste this rat, I dug in. I picked up the entire fried-to-rigor-mortis carcass with both hands and sunk into the back leg, where I detected the most meat. The meat was dark and offered just a hint of gaminess. Like eating pigeon–“rats with wings,” as they’re often referred to, coincidentally–there were too many tiny bones and not enough meat to really enjoy it. I did my best and actually ate most of it. Afterward, I found it hard to imagine there will be connoisseurs of rat meat, that they’ll be anything more than a necessity when a fowl-induced plague arises.

But plague or no plague, I finally figured out when a rat is not a rat: when you can order it in a restaurant and eat it.

Farmer in Bangladesh kills more than 83,000 rats and wins a color TV

I’ve seen a rat scurry across a New York City street at night. It looked like a small cat. Startling. Rats in New York are one of the city’s long-standing jokes. The idea of the 83,450 rats that one farmer in Bangladesh killed over the last nine months, thanks to a government rat killing campaign, is astounding–seriously disgusting. Truly.

Pair those rats with the 37,450 that another Bangladeshi farmer caught and YOWZA! They are not the only two farmers who have been killing rats. Five hundred farmers showed up to the event this last week where the contest winner was named.

This massive rat killing campaign with a color TV as the grand prize was part of Bangladesh’s government’s response to the country’s serious rat problem. The rats destroy at least 1.5 million tons of grain each year, half the amount that the country exports. Last year the rats destroyed the rice crop.

Along with getting rid of a massive amount of rats in one year, the campaign has had another positive effect. Farmers have learned that they can do something about the rat problem and have motivation to do so. No, it’s not the idea of winning a color TV.

As Mokhairul Islam, a poultry farmer and first place winner found out, he needs to buy three less bags of poultry feed a week now that 83,450 rats aren’t chomping away at his chickens’ food. Killing rats makes good economic sense. Islam has vowed to keep up with his efforts.

I imagine that lessening the rat population certainly would have a positive effect on other aspects of the country’s economy– tourism for example. If there are that many rats around two people’s farms, imagine the rest of the country.

Bangladesh is a country worth visiting. For starters, it offers part of the Sundarbans National Park, UNESCO World Heritage site that protects the Royal Bengal tiger and the Ridley Sea Turtle, and also Cox’s Bazar, a fishing port town that boasts the world’s longest natural sandy beach.

Explorers discover ‘lost world’ in Papua New Guinea

A team of explorers from the U.S. and Britain, along with locals from Papua New Guinea, recently descended into the volcanic crater of Mount Bosavi, where they discovered a “lost world” with a host of new species that have been evolving in isolation for thousands of years. The crater is more than a kilometer deep and three kilometers across, and lacks the major predators that are often common in rainforests around the globe. The result, is that many creatures were able to adapt to living side by side in an environment that remains nearly completely cut off from the outside world.

In the five weeks that the explorers and scientists were in the crater they found a wealth of interesting creatures, including kangaroos that live in trees, a new type of bat, and a fish that makes grunting noises. They also discovered 16 new species of frogs, including one with a set of fangs, as well as a new breed of rat that my now hold the record as the largest in the world.

The scientists on the expedition were surprised and amazed at these discoveries, and are now making renewed calls for the preservation of rainforests across the planet. The amount of new species they found in just five weeks makes you wonder what else is out there, still hidden in the jungles, that we don’t know anything about. There is still a lot of this world left to explore and plenty of new things to discover, despite what we might think.