Reintroducing one of the world's rarest insects

Introducing ship-borne rats to an island ecosystem can cause devastating effects. Case in point, Australia's Lord Howe Island, where the 1918 appearance of our old friend rattus rattus caused the extinction of an insect species (the Lord Howe Island phasmid, also known as the land lobster) in just two years.

But flash forward 81 years, to 2001, when three land lobsters were rediscovered on another tiny island 23km away. Seven more years forward, a breeding program has brought the population up to a few dozen insects. Now, scientists hope to return the Lord Howe Island phasmid to its namesake home.

There's just one thing getting in the way of the reintroduction: the island is still infested with rats.

To make the island hospitable for the land lobster, the Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife has a plan to eradicate rattus rattus. Their main tool: poison dropped from helicopters.

While the Foundation plans for the poison drop, opposition groups are voicing their disapproval. They say it's too extreme, and could hurt too many other species on the island (including its human population). Lord Howe Island is also home to two species of rare bird, which some fear could be wiped out by the poison.

Is poison the best way to go? Here's the Foundation's point of view:

Based on income loss through seed predation alone, the total eradication of rats at a cost of $635K gives the best cost benefit ratio. Not only would eradication pay for itself within four years; over the next 30 years, the palm industry on a rat free island would generate over 5.7 million dollars more than it could under current pest control regimes.


It's kind of weird seeing a conservation program discussed in terms of "cost-benefit ratios," but at least they're trying.