From Mice To Penguins


As 92 year-old David Attenborough launches his namesake polar ship, popularly known as ‘Boaty McBoatface’, I’m reminded that planet management never gets easier.

On the island of Macquarie, between Australia and Antarctica, problems started soon after it was discovered in 1810. The island’s fur seals, elephant seals and penguins were killed for fur and blubber, but it was the rats and mice that jumped from the sealing ships that started the problem.

Cats were introduced to keep the rodents from food stores. Rabbits followed some 60 years later, as part of a tradition to leave the animals on islands to give shipwrecked sailors something to eat.

Given easy prey, cats feasted on the rabbits and feline numbers quickly grew. The island then lost two endemic flightless birds, a rail and a parakeet. The rabbits bred rapidly and ate the island’s vegetation.

By the 1970s, some 130,000 rabbits were causing so much damage that myxomatosis was the latest foreign body introduced to Macquarie, which took the rabbit population down to under 20,000 within a decade.

The island’s vegetation then began to recover, but what was good for the vegetation proved bad for the island’s wildlife. With fewer rabbits around, the cats turned to local burrowing birds. By 1985, conservationists deemed it necessary to shoot the cats.

The last cat was killed in 2000, but the conservationists were horrified to see rabbit populations soar. Myxomatosis failed to reduce them and the newly strong rabbit population quickly reversed decades of vegetation recovery. Without vegetation roots, the soil shifted. In 2006, the rabbits were blamed for a massive landslip that wiped out much of an important penguin colony.

From mice to penguins – the chain of events is a rare example of ‘trophic cascade’ leading to ‘ecosystem meltdown’.

12 comments on “From Mice To Penguins”

  1. Brooke says:

    :.. planet management never gets easier… I admire those who are trying to get us good data to make crucial decisions.

  2. Helen Martin says:

    It seems as if problems only get worse as people try to “manage” the planet.

  3. Peter Tromans says:

    We have ‘adapted’ so much of the land surface of the planet to our needs. We should simply leave remote islands alone. Though it may be more difficult to achieve, the same should apply for forest and wilderness.

  4. Roger says:

    It’s probably too late to simply leave remote islands alone, Peter Tromans. There aren’t any left.
    If the rats on South Georgia could be wiped out -which they have been – I’d have thought the rabbits of Macquarie Island could be exterminated.

  5. Jo W says:

    Have the comments now finished with football,cars and Trump? As Denise said yesterday,can we get back to books?

    Here’s to Sir David and his namesake boat,may they continue to point out our shortcomings as guardians of this earth.

  6. Wayne Mook says:

    Football finished today, Sunday and then you should be safe until mid-August.

    Once we finally destroy ourselves the planet will recover, just think of us like the dinosaurs, life on Earth is very adaptable even after major set backs.

    Once the problem is noted hopefully something can be done, I remember the comments that we would never recycle and now it’s 2nd nature. I’m hopeful.

    On the book front I’ve just been reading about split infinitives, jut be careful with those adverbs.

    does anyone know any books about British Radio Horror? Plenty on US programme but little on UK.


  7. Helen Martin says:

    That rule about not splitting infinities is artificial, or so I was told. You can’t split a Latin infinitive any more than you can a French one so when the learned souls were creating a formal English grammar in the (18th?) century they mandated the don’t separate the infinitive parts rule.

  8. Roger says:

    “When I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will remain split”

  9. snowy says:

    I’m not sure such a book exists, [but will be happy to be corrected], because the Beeb has always scattered horror stories all over the schedules like somebody dropping a hand-grenade into a bucket of frogs. [Perhaps there is a gap in the market?]

    [A few names that might possibly help locate old shows, a list that I hope others will add to].

    Not many all-out Horror series, the most famous, ‘Appointment with Fear’, ran for over a decade, few original episodes survive. [The format has been revived a few times, but with diminishing effect.]

    There were some Horror/Crime crossovers; ‘Tales from the Black Museum’ presented by Orson Welles. And to a lesser extent ‘The Secrets of Scotland Yard’, but that did lean more toward True Crime with Horror flourishes. [Though one episode did feature an old workmate of mine; but that is a different story].

    Jump forward, to ‘The Price of Fear’, Vincent Price, for ’twas he, had a series on the BBC around the same time he was working on ‘Theatre of Blood’.

  10. Helen Martin says:

    I resolved long ago to never leave an infinitive entire if it could be split and to agree with Winston Churchill about using natural constructions when he refused the prissiness as being something “up with which I will not put.” That was another rule, of course, not ending a sentence with a preposition, but the same area. (That should have been ‘infinitives’ up there, of course.)

  11. SteveB says:

    Why I enjoy this blog is because it‘s about anything and everything. I‘m always interested when admin reports on a new museum or restaurant or travels or whatever. It‘s because it‘s not restricted I enjoy it. And sometimes it‘s a conversation too, which can go any way it wants.

  12. Wayne Mook says:

    Thanks Snowy,

    I found a book by Richard J. Hand – listen In terror, but it’s an academic book so not cheap.

    I know ‘Tales from the Black Museum Museum’ (I have a copy of the Michael Gough film.) appeared on radio Luxembourg fronted and made by Harry Alan Towers but did his ‘The Secrets of Scotland Yard’ have a British outing?

    I’ve managed to pick up 4 of the old episodes of ‘Appointment with Fear.’ sadly most of them are gone.

    To the rest of you I leave with a comment from the People’s Front of Judea, ‘Splitters!’


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