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The Raptor Center returns to the Galapagos Islands

Dr. Julia Ponder, executive director of the University of Minnesota Raptor Center holds a Galapagos Hawk

Faculty and staff from the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center will head to the Galapagos island of Pinzón next week to help make the island safe once again for the Pinzón Giant Tortoise—an animal currently listed as “extinct in the wild” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Galapagos restoration project partners are the Galápagos National Park, Island Conservation, the Charles Darwin Foundation, Bell Laboratories, the Galápagos Government Council and the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.

Following The Raptor Center’s successful participation in a 2011 collaborative effort to eradicate invasive rats endangering the ecosystem on a number of small Galapagos Islands, the Center will return this time to trap and protect Galapagos Hawks while scientists work to eradicate invasive black rats endangering the tortoise on the island of Pinzón.

Because the invasive rats will be poisoned, the Raptor Center needs to protect the hawks from eating the rats and experiencing second-hand poisoning.

The hawks will be held in captivity for six weeks until their exposure risk is reduced.

The black rats present on Pinzón Island are thought to have been first introduced to the Galapagos Islands by 17th century pirates and/or whalers. The rats have prevented the Pinzón Giant Tortoise from successfully reproducing for nearly 150 years by preying on eggs and hatchlings. For over 45 years, the Galápagos National Park and the Charles Darwin Foundation have raised Pinzón tortoises in captivity and then returned them to the wild when they are more “rat-proof” at an age of about 4 years.

Invasive rats also negatively affect the Pinzón Lava Lizard, making this rare species ever rarer. On Plaza Sur, another island where rodents will be removed this time, invasive house mice destroy the root systems of the long-lived Opuntia cactus, the favored food of Galápagos Land Iguanas and other species like the Cactus Finch.

“It is a natural fit for us to be part of this important project,” said Julia Ponder, D.V.M., executive director of The Raptor Center. “Invasive species pose an incredible threat to native animals in Galapagos. It is a privilege to be able to work with this international partnership, bringing our expertise with raptors to a field project that will have such profound and impactful effects such as restoring an ecosystem balance and saving another species from extinction.”

Ponder will be blogging about her experiences throughout her trip via a series of journal entries. Find them here tagged under “Galapagos Journal” on Health Talk and on The Raptor Center’s blog.

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