S.Georgia : LANDMARK REINDEER ERADICATION PROJECT HELPS PROTECT SOUTH GEORGIA’S NATIVE BIODIVERSITY
Submitted by Falkland Islands News Network (Juanita Brock) 24.02.2014 (Article Archived on 24.03.2014)
Dr Martin Collins writes that: The Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (GSGSSI) is pleased to announce the completion of a major project to eradicate reindeer from the island of South Georgia. The project, which was undertaken during two austral summers, included the humane removal of over 6,600 non-native reindeer from the island.
LANDMARK REINDEER ERADICATION PROJECT HELPS PROTECT SOUTH
GEORGIA’S NATIVE BIODIVERSITY
The Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (GSGSSI) is pleased to announce the completion of a major project to eradicate reindeer from the island of South Georgia. The project, which was undertaken during two austral summers, included the humane removal of over 6,600 non-native reindeer from the island.
Reindeer were introduced to South Georgia in the early 1900s by Norwegian whalers and Norwegian expertise has been instrumental in their eradication. Since their introduction reindeer numbers have increased dramatically and these voracious grazers have had a devastating impact on the island’s vegetation, with knockon effects on native burrowing seabird communities. Rapid glacial retreat, associated with climate warming, also required that the Government act quickly before the reindeer spread to more pristine parts of the island.
Following consultation with experts and stakeholders, GSGSSI began work to remove these non-native animals from the island and, in January 2013, used a combination of herding and ground shooting, to eradicate reindeer (1900 animals) from the Busen area. The herding was undertaken by a team of Sami reindeer specialists from the north of Norway, whilst expert marksmen from the Norwegian Nature Inspectorate (SNO) did the ground shooting. In addition the marksmen reduced the population on the Barff Peninsula by 1,500 animals.
In early 2014 six Norwegian marksmen returned to South Georgia to complete the operation on the Barff Peninsula. The rugged terrain and lack of suitable anchorages on the Barff Peninsula meant that herding was not a viable option, so ground shooting was used as a stand-alone method. The marksman were based in tented field camps and supported by the GSGSSI fisheries patrol vessel the Pharos SG. Despite challenging terrain and some of the worst summer weather in recent years, the marksmen completed systematic searches of all areas with reindeer and shot 3,140 animals in a six-week period. In the coming months, the area will be thoroughly checked to ensure that it has been cleared.
The eradication, which cost around £900,000, was funded from GSGSSI reserves. Some of those costs were offset by the sale of meat products recovered during the first phase of the operation.
Alongside the work to remove reindeer, several scientific research projects were undertaken, including the collection of samples for genetic analysis and filming for behavioural research. Science teams have also continued to monitor vegetation and bird communities to track the recovery of the island’s systems after the eradication. Although it will take a number of years for the full benefits of the eradication to be realised, there are early signs of vegetation recovery, especially in the Busen area, which has now been free from reindeer for almost a year.