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News Release

The cats and rats of Pitcairn

ANGWIN (Napa County) Calif., July 21, 2000—It's cats or rats for Pitcairn Island, the tiny South Pacific isle made famous by the "Mutiny on the Bounty."

Rats are literally eating the 50 or so people on the remote little island poor, and the only way to stop the pests, it seems, is to grow a new crop of cats.

The trouble started last year when the island government engaged a rat extermination outfit to rid Pitcairn of its rats. Previously the rats had been held at bay by a considerable number of cats on the one-by-two mile island, located about midway between Panama and New Zealand.

"We're going to get rid of the rats, and you'll have to get rid of your cats," the exterminators told the Pitcairners. "Once the rats are gone your cats will start picking off your birds, and you certainly don't want that."

So Pitcairn's cats disappeared.

The rat exterminators did their work of ridding the island of the rats, or at least seemed to at the time. But only a short time after they left Pitcairn the rats reappeared. In huge numbers!

The islanders have taken to picking the varmints off with their .22 rifles. In just a few days, for example, Tom Christian, the island's radio officer, accounted for 200 of the critters, and another islander bagged a similar number.

But it was easy to see that mere guns wouldn't win the war. So three tons of rat bait has been imported. But it is not all that effective in wet weather, which happens almost every week on Pitcairn. Traps by the score have been set. But still the rats appear to multiply.

"Some people are finding as they set traps and carry on up the hill, on the way back they have to empty and reset them," says Pitcairn Miscellany, the island newspaper.

"At certain times of the day any travelers on the roads will count in tens the number of rats scurrying to safety." The rats are eating corn before it matures, oranges, bananas, almost everything the islanders grow.

In the face of what has been a largely losing battle, the Pitcairners are now turning to the only force that has kept the rats at bay in the past. Cats!

"A pair of cats was recently brought to the island, and now there are seven kittens in that family," says Christian. "We're applauding every new cat that comes to Pitcairn."

He says the cats are being fed pills that will counteract any poison they might ingest from rats they catch which might have just been poisoned.

The bait will be used, the traps set, and the blizzard of bullets will continue, but it is in their cats that the Pitcairners see victory over their plague of Pacific rats.

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Pitcairn Islands Study Center, 1 Angwin Ave., Angwin, CA, USA. Herbert Ford, 707-965-6625, 707-965-2047, Fax: 707-965-6504, Email: hford@puc.edu, Website: http://library.puc.edu/pitcairn


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