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Suwarrow – another kind of rat race

Friday 26 November 2021 | Written by Supplied | Published in Features, Go Local

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Suwarrow – another kind of rat race
The island of Suwarrow. SUPPLIED

Most people would think you would travel to Suwarrow to get out of the rat race. Well, not for Te Ipukarea Society, we go there to end it!

Following on from what has been a very successful Bird of the Year competition, we are hopeful that many more people will now appreciate the value to the environment of our Cook Islands birds. They are one of Te Ipukarea Society’s key areas of work, and a space we have been working in for a long time. Rats (Kiore) are one of the main threats to our birds. For a number of years, we have been trying to remove rats from Suwarrow Atoll, the Cook Islands National Park, globally recognised as an important bird area. 

We had hoped we had jumped the final hurdles of this race and killed the last of the Kiore on Suwarrow in 2018. That was after a five-week campaign involving many people, hours of trapping, cutting tracks through dense bush, and spreading rat poison. We had worked with the National Environment Service rangers stationed on Suwarrow to kill rats on the larger Motu Tou, and two smaller adjacent motu, with funding from the Global Environmental Facility Small Grants Programme.

However, on a recent monitoring trip, we found there was a remnant population of rats remaining on one of these small motu. This motu is home to breeding seabirds, including frigates, red-tailed tropic birds, and brown boobies. Ground nesting birds are particularly vulnerable to rats

Some rat species are able to breed so fast that only two individuals can produce up to 1 million relatives in only 18 months. This is why we believe it is urgent to deal with this Kiore population as soon as possible, as they too are also prolific breeders and numbers will increase exponentially in a short time. There are probably already thousands on the island, and we are concerned they may soon spread to adjacent islets, affecting more vulnerable bird nesting sites and undoing all the hard work done over the years to try and eradicate the rats from Suwarrow. 

Normally we would develop a funding proposal to one of our donors to fund a final push to get rid of these rats, but that process takes time, which we don’t have. Because of this urgency to complete this work in May/June 2022, we are launching a fundraiser, both here and overseas, and asking for support. We have an estimated cost of NZD$50,000, including the charter cost of the Marumaru Atua voyaging canoe. Not only is this the most environmentally friendly way to travel between islands, with a very low carbon footprint, it is also the most affordable option available to us. In addition, this voyage will provide valuable training for some of our young up-and-coming Cook Islands sailors.

On Suwarrow the actual eradication programme would require a bit of effort and a strong team. First, a series of tracks need to be cut across the islet using a machete to clear the dense undergrowth, to allow clear access. We will be making use of some of the strong young Vaka crew to assist with that work as well!

So please, if anyone in the Cook Islands would like to donate to the Suwarrow Rat Race (against time) Campaign, our bank account at BCI is Te Ipukarea Society, Ac. No. 82853S15. Please annotate “Suwarrow”.  If you are in New Zealand, our Kiwibank account is Te Ipukarea, Ac. No. 389 020 0794187 00.  For anywhere else in the world, there is our GiveAlittle page “Protecting a Little Paradise” at https://givealittle.co.nz/cause/protecting-a-little-paradise . But note we lose 5 percent on any donations to that page, so we do prefer direct bank transfers where possible, especially for large amounts.  We can send receipts to anyone on request.

So please, if you are able to help end the rat race in Suwarrow, please dig deep and help us jump this last hurdle before the finish line.