Rat Island

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Title: Rat Island: Predators in Paradise and the World's Greatest Wildlife Rescue
Published by: Bloomsbury USA
Release Date: June 19, 2012
Pages: 288
ISBN13: 978-1608193325


Rat Island rises from the icy gray waters of the Bering Sea, midway between Alaska and Siberia. Once a vibrant sanctuary for great flocks of seabirds, the island gained a grimmer reputation when shipwrecked rats colonized, savaging the birds by the thousands.

Now, on this and hundreds of other remote islands around the world, a massive—and controversial—wildlife rescue mission is under way. Rat Island reveals the little-known but highly contentious new tactics of today’s conservation movement.

To save the imperiled islanders, academic ecologists have teamed up with professional hunters and poachers in a radical act of conservation. Following a ragtag crew of environmental fighters through exotic locales, Rat Island tells a story of perilous adventure and emotional conflict, blurring distinctions between hero and villain, the pristine and the plundered.



“A fascinating peek into the emerging science of preservation through eradication.”

“Stolzenburg brings a keen eye and thirst for adventure to the front lines of this controversial battle.”
Publishers Weekly

Rat Island will make you think deeply about who we are, and who they are, and what needs to be done to make the world a more harmonious and compassionate place for all.”
Marc Bekoff, University of Colorado, author of The Emotional Lives of Animals, Wild Justice, and The Animal Manifesto

“An extraordinary story.”
Plain Dealer

“Gripping… Rat Island is less a tragedy of paradise lost than an uplifting tale about the heroic struggle to regain indigenous habitats by exterminating the unwanted predators…[a] powerful book.”
Financial Times

“He’s a master storyteller who weaves together a series of tales packed with swashbuckling adventure.”


from Chapter 1. Over the Blue Horizon

Let it be remembered how powerful the influence of a single introduced tree or mammal has been shown to be. —Charles Darwin

Seven centuries ago, from a tropical beach in the South Pacific, a boat set sail. From Tahiti or Rarotonga, Tubuai or Rangiroa, the precise port of departure long since lost in the haze of cultural memory, the clan of Polynesian seagoers sliced into the surf on a double-hulled canoe, a catamaran buoyed by two great hollowed trees. Its crew steered south by southwest, into unexplored waters.

Why they set sail remains a question for the ages. Their leader may have been a young man with political ambitions, whose only hope for becoming island chief was to find an island of his own. They may have been outcasts, forced seaward by crowding or banned by society. Perhaps they were simply explorers, heeding the human itch to know the other side of the horizon.

Moved by whatever push or pull, into the blue unknown they went. They steered by the stars, by Alpha Centauri and Beta Centauri, by the familiar beacons and bearings of distant galaxies. By day they watched for signs of land, in the passings of coconuts and driftwood, the swim-by of a sea turtle. They marked subtle changes in the behavior of waves and swells, reading currents for the particular curves imparted by intervening shores. They scanned the skies for clouds signaling the billowing of air over sun-heated hills, or the purposeful flight of a seabird, suggesting a nest not too far away.

Several weeks and three thousand miles into the void, the Stone Age seafarers at last sighted shore. Behind it rose the tall green jungles and mountain gorges and rushing rivers of a land spreading farther than any they had ever known. Aotearoa, they would come to call it—land of the long white cloud. As they unpacked their stores of taro and sweet potato, their fishing hooks and axes, one among them retrieved a length of hollowed log, an elegant vessel carved in the likeness of a canoe and capped at the ends. It was handled only by its tohunga, its expert, with a purpose deserving of precious cargo, and was soon to be carried into the forest, accompanied by prayer. At the proper place, the tohunga ceremoniously lowered the vessel and opened its latch. And onto the ground and into the forest scurried a family of rats. Kiore, the rats were called.


from Chapter 12. The Endless Flock

All that anybody could say for sure, as of June 2010, when the Tiglax made one of its seasonal sweeps past Sirius Point, was that the auklets of Kiska were still performing a show for the ages. The Tiglax had arrived at the dusky hour of half past ten, and as was customary whenever the vessel happened upon this special place and time in the world, the engines had come to an idle and the boat to a slow drift. The birds were returning from the sea, skeins of auklets skimming over the water, clouds of auklets billowing over the far horizons. And on they came with an ever-frenzying pace and the musical roar of their multitudes, ascending the snowy heights of the Kiska volcano.

It was impossible to say whether the torrents of life raining upon the headlands of Sirius Point represented more the indomitable force or the fading remnant of a far richer storm of birds. Nor could anyone say what the rats’ next move would be. Maybe they had met their match in the culling winters of Kiska. Or perhaps this was the season that would find them again tearing through the auklets. Given its global record of conquest, there was no betting against the rat in the long run.

But for the moment, one could only stand dumbstruck before the mind-bending enormity of the auklets’ masses, as one pondering the brink of the Grand Canyon. The deeper the gaze, the dizzier the reckoning of scale. For every flock of birds there was another behind it, and another behind that, repeating to the end of sight. Witnesses had sometimes compared the phenomenon of Sirius Point to the northern forests’ legendary flocks of passenger pigeons, obscuring skies for hours in passing. It was perhaps of no trivial portent that the passenger pigeon—slaughtered en masse for fertilizer and hog feed—fell from its untouchable flocks of billions in the mid-1800s to exactly zero in 1914.

An hour into the show, Kiska’s auklets were still sweeping endlessly from the sea, swarming and swirling over the point. The diesels of the Tiglax rumbled to life, the ship moved on, and Sirius Point melted into the horizon, beneath glowing heavens still streaked with fleeting wisps of living smoke.