Program to protect rare Galapagos Hawks takes flight
In the summer of 2010, Julia Ponder, D.V.M., the executive director of the College of Veterinary Medicine’s Raptor Center received what amounted to the invitation of a lifetime.
In November 2010, the Government of Ecuador would launch a continuation of their efforts to eradicate invasive species across the Galapagos Islands. (The program would eventually launch in January 2011 due to logistical delays.)
The next target in the eradication program was a non-native black rat threatening the local ecosystem.
The only problem was that Galapagos Hawks, a rare and endangered species, often prey on the rats, leaving the birds highly susceptible to secondary poisoning during the eradication process.
To mitigate the risk, a team of experts was needed to protect the birds in captivity for 6-8 weeks as scientists distributed poison across 10 islands in the Galapagos. According to Ponder, the timeline would allow the rats to die and then decay past the point where the hawks would scavenge their remains.
"That's the only way we know to get a broad coverage," said Ponder during a recent interview with Minnesota Public Radio. “So we take many steps to make sure that the rats are the main and only target species to this bait."
Ponder jumped at the opportunity to assist in the project and helped manage, monitor and care for the birds and work with experts from the University of Missouri at St. Louis. Scientists and collaborators from Galapagos National Park, the Charles Darwin Foundation, Island Conservation, Durrell Foundation and Bell Laboratories also worked to coordinate other aspects of the project.
“It is a privilege to be able to bring The Raptor Center’s depth of knowledge and experience to this project and work with these extremely dedicated partners,” Ponder said. “I am absolutely thrilled that they realized the project would benefit from a veterinarian’s perspective and contacted us.”
Throughout her trip, Ponder kept a running blog chronicling her trip. Here are a few excerpts:
Thursday, December 2, 2010… Due to a growing number of logistical challenges, the decision was made to postpone project implementation until January, allowing time to regroup and be sure that all components of the project (rodent eradication, hawk mitigation, and pre- and post-eradication survey work) are ready to go… After being there, I am more than ever convinced of the importance of this project, and have an increased awareness of the magnitude of what is being attempted.
Monday, January 17, 2011… An adult Galapagos hawk flew into a tree near the meat that we had set out, as a way to target a safe place to trap the hawk, and then hopped down to eat. It continued to eat while we snuck closer. Using a tool designed by Graeme, one of our colleagues on November’s trip, Franny slipped a clasp with a one-way gate onto the bird’s leg. The bird calmly continued to eat as I snuck closer. As it tried to fly off, I held the string connected to the clasp and quickly grabbed its legs. Success!
Friday, January 28, 2011… Things are settling into a bit more of a routine these days. The hawks are eating well and the aviary adjustments have helped them quiet down. Each morning, we check the birds in their pens and do any necessary treatments, such as medications for parasite control. Whenever possible, we give medications in their food; we are trying to handle the hawks as little as possible to minimize stress… The bait drops for the rodent eradication went extremely well – two drops a week apart. The helicopter pilot was almost surgical in his precision. With that part done, we watch and wait. Watch/monitor what is happening on the islands (for 2 years!) and wait to release the hawks (just a few more weeks!).
To read more from Dr. Julia Ponder, visit The Raptor Center blog at http://theraptorcenternews.blogspot.com/
--- Justin Paquette