St Helena Online

St Helena Online

The St Helena report and the gap in media

Rat claims discounted as pest control staff are laid off
close up of a rat
Rats are a threat to health – and to St Helena’s wirebird population

Claims that rats are on the increase across the island have been discounted by St Helena Government (SHG) – just as the number of pest controllers is being halved.

Five of the 11 staff who lay bait are to lose their jobs.

Councillors have confirmed receiving complaints, but a statement from The Castle says: “There is no indication at present that rat numbers are increasing. The number of requests for rodent control has not risen significantly.”

It also says that the number of rodent bodies being found went down by a fifth in 2011.

TREADING CAREFULLY:John Turner finds rats on the doorstep

But in Blue Hill, John Turner tells a different story.

“We are experiencing a significant growth in the number of rats killed by our cats,” he says.

“We used to get about one body per week. Now it’s six in a week.

“We currently have half a dozen cats and they’re all pretty efficient rat killers. We find the evidence on the doorstep.”

The government statement confirms that baiting has been cut back in recent years, because of shrinking budgets and the rising cost of rodenticides. It says:

“The section’s rodent control programme is  forever evolving from what used to be a proactive approach to more reactive approach.

“There are presently 11  pest control operators, including two  supervisors, who regularly bait different residential areas around the island.

“Baiting is mainly carried out around farms , dwellings,  and along roadsides.  Control within dwellings, sheds and garages is done by request.

“Rodent  control on private land such as coffee plantations is also done by request.”

Bait stations have been set up around the island where rodents forage or feed. Staff check them “as often as possible”, but that depends on weather, the number of requests for help, and the distance operators have to travel.

Roads linking with private homes are included in the baiting programme.

But where long stretches of roads and pasture land might have been baited routinely in the past, now it is done when problems arise.

Rumours of a shortage of bait are denied: “The directorate  always has poisons on the shelf as back-up; therefore there is enough available for use when we are waiting for our next consignment.”

St Helena law says householders and landowners “shall take such steps as may from time to time be necessary and reasonably practicable for the destruction of rodents.”

Infestations must be reported – and control staff have the right to enter land to destroy rats.

But the kind of poison now used by the health department is too powerful to be used by the public.

Rats became resistant to Warfarin, which was safer for other species but required several “takes” before the animal would die.

Now pest control staff use more toxic rodenticides called Difenacoum or Bromadiolone, which need only a single feed to kill.

Rats have been completely wiped out on some remote islands with vulnerable wildlife, but SHG says it is “highly unlikely that complete eradication is possible”.

Instead, the aim is “to reduce rodent control populations to a tolerable level”.

John Turner is unconvinced that the health department can cope with the problem by working more efficiently once staffing has been cut.

“The island is basing its future on high-end tourists coming here to see our environment,” he says, “but I can’t imagine they want to see this particular aspect of our ecosystem.”

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