Authorities in the southern Atlantic Ocean island of South Georgia plan to cull thousands of reindeer, an invasive species that has damaged the local eco-system, destroying plant life, king penguin habitats and birds’ nests and accelerating the rate of erosion.
The 3,000-strong reindeer population on the island represents the animals’ southernmost herd.
South Georgia is a remote and inhospitable British overseas territory -- the UK claimed sovereignty in 1775, after the famous Captain James Cook first surveyed it --- that comprises a number of islands occupied only by a handful of government officials and scientists. Argentina has claimed ownership of South Georgia, as well as the nearby South Sandwich Islands for decades.
Native to the Arctic or sub-Arctic regions, a small herd of reindeer were first imported to South Georgia in 1911 by Norwegians to provide fresh meat for whaling and sealing expeditions.
Now, more than a century later as the reindeer population has exploded to unsustainable levels, South Georgia officials have brought a group of Sami herdsmen from Norway to assist with the mass culling that is expected to take two summers to complete.
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"The reindeer have become very destructive," Reidar Andersen, director of the Norwegian Nature Inspectorate, which supervises the Sami team, told Reuters.
According to reports, the Sami will corral the reindeer and shoot them with captive bolt guns and rifles. Subsequently, the slaughtered meat will be transported to the Falklands for sale to local markets and cruise ships. (About 3,000 people live on the Falklands.)
The mass killing appears to have the endorsement of conservationists.
“It’s the kind of action that’s needed from time to time to correct previous mistakes,” Arild Skedsom, of the World Wildlife Fund, said, according to Inquistr.
Sami, an indigenous people of both Norway and Sweden, have maintained their ancient practice of reindeer hunting and husbandry, even after they assimilated with other Scandinavians.
However, reindeer are not the only invasive species in South Georgia facing mass extermination.
Officials on the island have periodically sought to eradicate tens of millions of rats, the descendants of rodents who first arrived on the islands two centuries ago on whaling and sealing vessels.
The brown rats pose a grave threat to native bird and seabird species, including albatrosses, petrels, baby penguins, prion, the South Georgia Pipit and the South Georgia Pintai.
Generally, officials have killed rats by dropping tons of poison, toxic bait and rodenticide by helicopters.
"Prior to the baiting, if you went out at night, there were rats running everywhere," project leader Professor Tony Martin from Dundee University, Scotland, told the BBC.
"A week after the bait went down -- not a sign of a single rat. We even put out little batches of bait pellets that were particularly attractive to the rats. We saw them being taken for the first few days, and then there were no more pellets taken."