Kage Baker would undoubtedly have said, “Yecchhh!”
Also, “I should think they’d be grateful. Who’d want those things back?””
Eventually, though, she would see that the black rats of Lord Howe’s Island have got to go.
You all remember Lord Howe’s Island, I am sure, Dear Readers. It was the home of the eponymous Lord Howe’s Island Stick Insect, aka Land Lobsters. They are the outlandishly large and armoured stick insects once indigenous to that tropic isle, long thought extinct. They were recently rediscovered on Ball’s Pyramid – a needle of about 15 mostly vertical acres in the Tasmin Sea – under a melaleuca bush. In the dark, by some climbers doing a bio-inventory of the big pointy rock that is Ball’s Pyramid …
I wish I could have seen their faces when they found a nest of foot long bugs apparently carved out of licorice. But whatever their reactions, they were in the best tradition of biologists: the endangered insects were transported to a breeding paradise in Australia. The Lord Howe’s Stick Insect, once extinct, now numbers somewhere around 11,000.
That’s an awful lot of really big bugs, you know? What do you do with 11,000 giant bugs? Aside from try and take over the world, of course … well, you find them somewhere to live, somewhere more nurturing of a giant insect life style than the sterile halls and boxes of a lab. The logical place to turn them loose would be Lord Howe’s Island, where one presumes there is a giant bug-shaped eco-niche now empty and longing to be filled.
Unfortunately, the cause of the insects’ extinction is still there, and in fact living in several species’ eco-niches. They are a huge menace to the dominant fauna – which, like most Pacific islands, is primarily birds – and in fact have helped obliterate 8 endemic species of birds, including a Coot, a Pigeon a Parakeet and the unfortunately named BooBook Owl. And these are gone forever; none of them evidently had the sense to head for Ball’s Pyramid or nearby Roach Island. Many endemic species of bird have fled to both or either of those islands; petrals, shearwaters, noddies and terns. (I don’t know for sure what else is on Roach Island, but I am absolutely sure I don’t want to know, either.)
And what has caused this holocaust on Lord Howe’s Island? Oddly enough, not humans. No, it’s rats. Thousands and thousand of rats. Black rats, to be precise (Rattus rattus); a charming animal when encountered singly or in same-sex pairs in a secure cage. However, give them a chance to run around and breed, and you will shortly find yourself knee-deep in black rats. And very little else.
On Lord Howe’s Island, the rats have done for lots of birds; lots of insects, though apparently only the Stick Insect was driven to near-extinction; the beetles, as usual, are doing just fine. But there is a skink, a gecko and a snail, all endemic, which are suffering badly from being rat-chow.
There is only one native mammal left on the entire island. This is the Large Forest Bat. The Small Forest Bat used to live there, too, but was eaten by – guess, anyone? – the rats.
Basically, although Lord Howe’s is a sort of pocket paradise, it is rapidly coming to be so only for humans and their symbiotic animals: dogs, cats and rats. And in the meantime, there are 11,000 Stick Insects looking for a home. So a campaign is now in the works to get rid of the rats by bombing them with poison:
It is to be hoped that the dogs, cats and humans will be brought under control by less drastic measures. I also think it’s safe to assume that the entomology crew at the vast subterranean Company redoubt in Australia have at least one member on the directing board for the Rat Crusade. They have a very personal stake in this: they probably have even more stick insects than the Australian Zoo that has bred the 11,000.
But, really, how can there be an argument? For the sake of the Lord Howe’s Stick Insect alone, the battle should be fought. They showed amazing resourcefulness for a non-beetle insect, making their little refuge under that maleleuca bush … whereas rats can thrive anywhere, and just about inevitably lower property values when they do.
Someone needs to make it possible for the Stick Insects to go home. Someone needs to save the Large Forest Bat, the Stag Beetle and the Flax Snail. And the birds … shearwaters, petrals, boobies and terns visit all the Pacific Islands, but how can you really have too many white-winged sea birds? Blackbirds, kestrals and wood hens are doing rather well, though the wood hens have had to retreat to a preserve. But the Emerald Ground Dove, the Sacred Kingfisher, the White-eye, the Currawong and the Golden Whistler – those still need to be saved from the rats.
And I know Kage would agree: a few giant bugs are a reasonable price to pay for a white-faced heron.