Part of the UK Overseas Territory of Tristan da Cunha, Gough Island is home to more than eight million breeding birds from at least 24 different species, including highly threatened species such as the Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross, Atlantic petrel, MacGillivray’s prion, Gough bunting and Tristan albatross. The Critically Endangered Tristan albatross, one of the world’s greatest wanderers, is in need of an eleventh-hour intervention.
Mice were accidentally introduced by sailors to the remote Gough Island during the 19th century. These rodents have now colonised this World Heritage Site and learnt to exploit all available food sources on the island – including seabirds. Video cameras reveal how the mice eat the flesh of live seabird chicks – and, more recently, live adult birds too. Tristan albatross chicks weigh up to 10kg (around 300 times the size of the mice), but the open wounds inflicted frequently lead to their deaths.
The situation is so severe that just 21% of Tristan albatross chicks survived to fledge during the 2017/18 breeding season. Such low breeding success is rapidly pushing the Tristan albatross towards extinction. The new evidence of attacks on adults is a dreadful development – the loss of adults will accelerate the path to extinction for this amazing bird.
The RSPB and Tristan da Cunha have developed an ambitious programme to save the Tristan albatross and other highly threatened species on Gough, such as MacGillivray’s prion and Atlantic petrel. Successfully restoring the island to a seabird haven will prevent the deaths of at least two million seabirds each year.