The Raptor Center Work in the Galapagos
Background on the Project
The Raptor Center has been a collaborator and partner since 2010 in the ongoing ecological work being done on several islands in the Galapagos. The heart of the efforts is to remove introduced, invasive species like black rats from several of the islands, in phases. This work would not only expel the persistent threats of the rats to endangered and threatened endemic birds, reptiles, and mammals, but pave the way for reintroduction and successful breeding of these endemic species.
As a result of an international workshop held in 2007 to review the issue of invasive rodents in Galapagos, a long-term plan was put in place to remove rodents from islands in the archipelago. Because the hawks’ prey included rats, the hawks were at very high risk for secondary poisoning during the rat eradication program. To mitigate this risk, hawks from the islands being targeted for rodent eradication, were brought into temporary captivity.
TRC’s role was to provide consultative input on the project, veterinary expertise with raptors, and care and management of the hawks during their time in captivity. Dr. Julia Ponder, TRC's executive director, and other TRC staff members actively managed the birds and provided veterinary support.
"I am absolutely thrilled that when the project managers realized that they would benefit from a veterinarian’s perspective, they contacted us," Ponder said. "In addition to our experience in raptor medicine, surgery, and critical care, we also bring leadership and knowledge in the area of captive management of wild raptors, which will be critical for this project."
A news release from Island Conservation, the leading partner on the project, described the process: “Previous rodent-control efforts by the Galapagos National Park over the past four decades reduced impacts of introduced rodents in specific zones, but this project takes a further step by complete elimination of those impacts and costly ongoing management,” said Victor Carrion, technical coordinator for the park.
“Invasive species pose the greatest threat to nature in the Galapagos,” said Felipe Cruz, director of technical assistance at the Charles Darwin Foundation. “We are fortunate to be working with a consortium of international experts in rodent-removal techniques to develop lasting solutions to one of the most significant conservation problems affecting the Galapagos.”
Phase 1: Rábida, Bartolomé, Sombrero Chino, North Plaza, the two Beagle islets, and three of the Bainbridge Rocks
Phase 2: Pinzón
Success! The recovery of the tortoise and the Pinzón ecosystem was evidenced by tortoise hatchlings emerging from native Pinzón tortoise nests on the island. The Galápagos National Park has successfully returned 118 hatchlings to their native island home.
The Raptor Center will continue to be a contributor and facilitator in future work for the remaining islands. As with any research work with a complex ecology, TRC remains as consultants and will assist with monitoring project impacts.
For more information about the project and island restoration, please visit these partner websites:
For high-resolution photographs, please visit Island Conservation's website.
- “Rat Eradication and the Race to Catch Galapagos Hawks,” Galapagos Matters, Spring/Summer 2013
- “Invasive Species: the 18-km2 Rat Trap,” Nature, May 2013
- Island Conservation news release: “Back from the Brink of Extinction—Pinzón Giant Tortoise and Rare Rábida Land Snails Expected to Thrive on Rat-Free Islands in the Galápagos,” July 2013
- News release: “Galapagos Restoration Partners Release Twenty Hawks Back to Islands,” March 2011
- Dr. Julia Ponder’s Health Talk blog journal entries, October 29-December 26, 2012
- “Hawk Experts Lends a Hand in the Galapagos Islands,” November 2, 2010 (Link to YouTube video)
- “U of M Vet to Help Protect Hawks on Galapagos Islands,” MPR News, November 1, 2010