An adult Tristan albatross was eaten alive by invasive mice, putting their chicks at risk from mice and starvation. This is the first conclusive evidence that mice kill adults of this species. Tristan albatrosses are critically endangered, in large part due to invasive mice on their breeding ground, Gough Island. The RSPB will be launching a mouse eradication project next month to save the Tristan albatross and other endangered and threatened birds.
For the first time, an endangered adult Tristan albatross was eaten alive by invasive non-native house mice. About a third of the Tristan albatross chicks are eaten each year by the introduced mice on Gough Island, an island in the British overseas territory and a World Heritage Site in the South Atlantic, 2,600 km from the nearest landmass in South Africa. Only two to three pairs of Tristan albatrosses breed anywhere else on earth. Mouse predation and the threat of unsafe fishing practices have threatened them with extinction.
This adult was on Gough Island, the main Tristan Albatross breeding site and one of the most remote islands in the world, and raised a chick with her partner. She was one of the most experienced mothers on the island, and the father now has to fight to feed the chick alone. There is not only the risk of hunger, but also the risk of being eaten by the mice.
Tristan Albatross, Copyright Rob Morris, from the Surfbirds Galleries
Kim Stevens, Senior Field Assistant at RSPB, said, “It is devastating to see a parent being killed this way and their chick in such danger. Albatrosses are stunning, long-lived birds that spend much of their lives soaring over the oceans and they need safe places to feed and raise their young. This albatross was ringed in 1986 when she was a chick herself. So we lost one of our oldest known and most experienced mothers. “
The death of any Tristan Albatross breed is a devastating loss as they do not start breeding until they are around ten years old. Then it takes two parents about a year to raise a chick. If only one parent provides food, the chick can take months to fledge and is likely to be left in a weaker condition, multiplying the threat to the mice and reducing the chance of survival at sea.
It is very likely that sailors accidentally introduced mice to Gough Island in the 19th century. The mice have since adapted to feed on the seabirds, which evolved without the threat of land mammals and therefore have no natural defenses against them. We now know that even the adult Tristan albatross, one of the largest seabirds in the world with a wingspan of over 10 feet, will sit there defenseless as it is slowly being eaten alive. The mice threaten the future of the estimated eight million breeding birds that live on Gough.
This year the RSPB embarks on a mission to eradicate every single mouse on the island and make it a haven for sea birds again. The project was originally scheduled to run in 2020, but the coronavirus outbreak meant the RSPB and Tristan da Cunha’s government had to abandon these ambitious plans and bring the team home. With the delays, the project now has a significant funding deficit.
Defense Minister for Biosecurity, Lord Gardiner, said: “The UK is a proud steward of 14 overseas territories which are home to over 90% of UK wildlife and it is our responsibility to rise to the challenge of protecting the species in our care .
“The sad news that we have now lost an adult albatross for the first time is a timely reminder of the global threat to wildlife posed by invasive alien species. That is why it is so important that the government contribute to this ambitious project from the RSPB to save one of the largest seabird colonies in the world. “
On the RSPB donation page, people can donate directly to the restoration project to save the Tristan Albatross and the other birds on Gough Island.