Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Trapped mongoose in Samoa

In less than 24 hours after traps were laid in Samoa a male mongoose was caught, however the island nation is not relaxing the effort yet as this may not be the only one.

Samoa has no known established population of the mongoose, but the animals are common in Hawaii and Fiji, having been introduced to control the rats that were damaging the sugar cane fields. Despite this, mongooses do not reduce rat damage, and the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) has listed the mongoose as one of the 100 worst invasive species because of the impact it has on native birds and animals. In Fiji it is considered the main cause behind the extinction of several bird species on Viti Levu, the largest island.

The first report of a mongoose was in December last year, when a conservation team working on another project happened to see a mongoose crossing the road. After much consultation with surrounding villages it appeared that the mongoose had been sighted as far back as 2008.

This prompted the Samoa National Invasives Task Team (SNITT), the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE) and partners to establish an eradication project for the mongoose.

A proposal for funding was presented by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) to the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), to buy DOC250 traps that were designed in New Zealand for stoats, ferrets and similar animals, and tested with good results on mongoose in Hawaii.

"Initially we ordered 30 of these traps via the Pacific Invasives Initiative (PII) in New Zealand. The first night we laid out 10 traps," said Mark Bonin the Pacific Invasives Learning Network (PILN) Coordinator, "and although a mongoose was caught within the first 24 hours, we plan on continuing to trap in the area for at least a year."

The male mongoose appeared to be sexually mature and weighed 750 grams and had a head-body length (HBL) of 36.8cms.

The carcass was taken to the Principal Animal Health Officer with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in Vailima and tissue samples were prepared which will be sent for further investigation and DNA analysis to help determine the exact origin of the animal.

Despite the good fortune and the rapid trapping of a mongoose, the late discovery of the animal in Samoa is cause for concern. It took over a year for the animal to be officially reported and, this was only a result of a chance observation by the MNRE team.

Samoa is no stranger to the damages that an invasive species can cause. In 1993 a taro leaf blight outbreak devastated the staple crop decimating farmers' incomes from both the local and overseas markets.

"It's essential that we strengthen invasive species awareness and develop a campaign to let everyone know of the threats of invasive species to our biodiversity and sustainable livelihoods," believes Bonin.

"If you see something you think is a new 'invasive', then report it and explain why you think it's different from anything else you have seen. We always take a cautious view that if there is something that seems new, then it is worth investigating. We can't take the risk of something breeding or developing its own population in Samoa without addressing it."

On the 10th of February, the first 10 traps were put around the Aleipata wharf area, the most recent sighting of the mongoose. The 20 remaining traps will be set in other nearby sighting locations later this week. While the exact origin of this particular mongoose cannot be confirmed yet, the sightings coincided with the construction of the new wharf in Aleipata.

"We are not finished with this mongoose eradication activity. We'll have to continue until we are 100% confident that the last animal is captured. Of course we encourage the general public that if they see something to please report it as soon as possible."

Nanette Woonton
Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme

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