A pest-eradication project is successfully ridding Australia’s Macquarie Island of rabbits, rats and mice to return it to its role as an important breeding ground for sub-Antarctic wildlife.

Story By Claudia Babirat

Situated deep in the Southern Ocean, 1500 kilometres south of Tasmania, Macquarie Island is not a typical Australian outpost. Snowy crags replace sun-baked plains, elephant seals and penguins reign supreme, and the mercury rarely rises above 10 degrees Celsius. But, just like in the outback, the 12,860-hectare sub-Antarctic island is currently home to a number of resilient backcountry workers and their team of specially trained canine workmates. They live in basic field huts, hunt on foot for up to 12 hours, six days a week, and have to put up with some of the most physically challenging conditions anywhere.
They are part of the $24.6 million Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Project (MIPEP), the world’s most ambitious island pest eradication to date.
The five-year operation, which is funded by the Australian and Tasmanian governments, aims to completely eliminate rabbits, ship rats and mice – pests that have overrun Macquarie Island (or ‘Macca’ as the locals affectionately call it) since their introduction by sealers in the 1800s.
“Macquarie is a really important breeding ground for sub-Antarctic wildlife but rabbits and rodents are seriously threatening their survival,” MIPEP project manager Keith Springer says. While ship rats and house mice have decimated invertebrate and burrowing petrel populations, the 150,000-strong army of European rabbits has razed large tracts of the native tussock and megaherb vegetation, the combined effect of which threatens the island’s World Heritage status.
Past attempts at rabbit control, especially the introduction of the myxoma virus in the 1970s, were effective for some time, but ultimately proved unsuccessful in keeping rabbit numbers down due to the build-up of resistance. “If we want to save the flora and fauna we have to go for complete eradication,” Keith says. “This means dispatching each and every rodent and rabbit.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #82

Outback Magazine: Apr/May 2012