Drones set to battle 65,000 rats that took over Marlon Brando’s island

Hollywood superstar Marlon Brando fell in love with Tetiaroa atoll – a 3.7-square-mile island in French Polynesia – after filming Mutiny on the Bounty there in the 1960s.

At around the same time that he bought a patch of land there, and built a village that has since been converted into a luxury resort, the first rats appeared on the island.

It’s not known whether the first breeding pair of rats arrived when Brando shipped materials to his island, or if they hitch-hiked on another vessel.

But what is known is that the rodents thrived, and there are now anywhere between 28,000 and 65,000 rats wreaking havoc among the island’s wildlife – raiding birds’ nests and hunting native lizards.

Even more worryingly, as birds die off fewer nutrients are available for the coral reefs lying just off shore.

David Will, innovation program manager for conservation group Island Conservation warns that “species are going extinct at a rapid pace,” on the island.

But there might just be a high tech solution to the unwanted infestation: drones.

Starting next month, the conservation group plans to deploy a swarm of specially-engineered drones to blanket the island with pellets of rat poison.

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“We’ve been watching drone technology for a number of years with the idea that it can dramatically reduce cost and also democratise island restoration by allowing local experts to be able to fly them using precision automating processes,” Will told Wired.

Drones have already been used in a smaller-scale project in the Galapagos in 2019. The rare nocturnal swallow-tailed gull population on the island of Seymour Norte was being decimated by invasive rats, and a project to launch poison-bombing drones from boats was very effective.

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Today, two years on from the drone project, Seymour Norte has been declared 100% rat-free.

Tetiaroa is some five times the size of Seymour Norte, but Will and his team of five are confident that they can precision-drop 30 tonnes of poison onto the island over two weeks, hopefully wiping out Tetiaroa’s rats once and for all.

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