Sunday, August 14, 2005

Rat hunt

"IT SOUNDS like Disney on acid: a crack team of rodent killers travel thousands of miles to wipe out an island's entire population of 10,000 rats while another set of experts rescue the woodmice.

"This is not an experiment in children's cinema, however, but a £250,000 project to improve life for the 14 residents of the tiny Scottish island of Canna.

"Brown rats have overrun the west coast island since they were accidentally introduced by ship about a century ago. The rodents are wiping out seabird colonies and pose a threat to Canna's mice.

"But while the problem is undoubtedly serious, the publicly funded solution - called Operation Canna Recovery - borders on the bizarre.

"Island owner the National Trust for Scotland has hired New Zealand-based Wildlife Management International with a £200,000 contract to exterminate the rats by laying 3,500 traps.

"Starting next month, it will even involve brave rat catchers using ropes to descend the sheer cliffs of the island to reach the entrances to the rat burrows.

"But the operation poses an obvious threat to the 'innocent' local population of woodmice. To get round this, a breeding population of around 120 mice will be captured and transported to the mainland to be returned when the rat menace has been dealt with."

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