UN agency helps tiny Tuvalu fight its rat pack problem

8 May 2006

With recycled Australian pineapple cans containing an environmentally friendly pesticide, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization is helping the tiny Pacific island nation of Tuvalu (nine coral islands, population 9,000) to fight an infestation of rats that threaten the country’s chief export crop - coconuts.

With recycled Australian pineapple cans containing an environmentally friendly pesticide, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is helping the tiny Pacific island nation of Tuvalu (nine coral islands, population 9,000) to fight an infestation of rats that threaten the country’s chief export crop - coconuts.

Until recently, Tuvalu’s biggest headache was disappearing under rising seas due to global warming, with waves flooding over its pancake flat atolls no more than five metres above sea level at their highest point. The government has said the population may have to be evacuated in the event of rising sea levels

But then another terrifying menace struck as black rats – rattus rattus by the scientific term - began rampaging through the atolls and gnawing through the coconuts that are the main source of revenue, together with royalties from leasing out the country’s internet domain suffix - .tv - to a United States web-hosting company for a reported $50 million.

The rats are particularly fond of young green nuts and very fit, leaping a metre in the air from a standstill and jumping from tree to tree without the aid of lianas. Damage to the green nuts is put at over 60 per cent.

Now FAO has stepped in with a $200,000 ecologically-based pest management project to downsize the marauding rat packs. An absolute priority is to safeguard the native population of young coconut crabs - a fast-vanishing species that is one of the wonders of the animal world.

Coconut crabs, also known as Robber Crabs and sometimes nicknamed Godzillas Crabs, are normally the size of small cats but can grow to 80 centimetres in size. The world’s largest land invertebrates, their huge claws are powerful enough to lift rocks weighting almost 30 kilos.

As their name indicates their preferred food is coconuts, although unlike the rats they normally wait for the fruit to fall from the tree before tucking in. Sometimes, however, they will carry a coconut up a tree and drop it to the ground from up to four metres - then climb back down for dinner.

The pesticide-laden cans will be strategically hung from wires to put them out of the reach of the young crabs, though not of the more agile rattus rattus. Metal bands will be fastened around coconut palm trunks to prevent rats, and crabs, from climbing up.

Similar projects elsewhere have resulted in production increases of up to 180 per cent.

 

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