Biologists find dead rat on St. Paul after months of searching

Sunset in St. Paul (Photo courtesy Kevin Melovidov)
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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - A “strike team” mobilized on an isolated island in the middle of the Bering Sea finally knocked its target off of its hit list after months waiting. Its victim: a solitary Norway rat.

The rat was first sighted last fall on St. Paul Island, one of the two Pribilof Islands located in the Bering Sea, and was hunted with “sophisticated monitoring equipment,” according to a release from the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.

Rats are not native to the volcanic island, which is located hundreds of miles from mainland Alaska, and biologists were worried about the potential danger to local wildlife, particularly to birds. Birding is one of the few local industries, and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game estimates that 3 million birds nest on the the two Pribilof Islands, with sightings of over 200 species. Rats eat birds, chicks and eggs, and are already dealing with massive die-offs.

The strike team that was organized for the rat capture was composed of personnel from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, ECO, USDA Wildlife Services, and Island Conservation. Using wildlife cameras, bait, and different types of rat traps, the team worked with the local community to find and eliminate the rat.

According to the release, biologists on the island had just finished working on other field work projects for the day. Returning home, they received word that the dead rat had “been found by a visiting birdwatcher.”

But biologists can’t guarantee that it’s the same rat that was originally seen.

Still, Refuge Supervisory Biologist Heather Renner said that biologists were thrilled.

“There is still continued monitoring to be done to confirm whether this was the ONLY rat on St. Paul, but this is really wonderful news after a frustrating 10 months,” she said in the release.

Biologists suspect that the rat died of poison that had recently been deployed.

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