Possible rat sighting on remote St. Paul Island raises alarm

a truck says "keep st paul rat free!"
For more than two decades, the Pribilof Islands have implemented a rat prevention program to keep the island rat-free. (John Ryan/KUCB)

It may sound silly to outsiders, but for the remote Pribilof Island of St. Paul, a possible rat sighting could be a big deal.

The community of about 300 residents has worked for decades to be rodent-free. Officials with the island’s tribal government have said the invasive species would devastate local seabirds and permanently change the wildlife populations.

According to a Facebook post from the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island Tribal Government, a rat was potentially spotted last Wednesday. The tribal government’s Ecosystem Conservation Office is working to confirm the sighting using trail cameras at the city fourplex where the unconfirmed sighting was reported.

In 2018, local and federal officials spent almost a year trying to eradicate a rogue rat on the island. They believed the rodent likely snuck in on a boat.

Millions of seabirds descend each year on the rocky oasis near the middle of the Bering Sea. It’s one of the few places that has successfully protected its rich natural habitat and wildlife from invasive rodents.

According to Lauren Divine, the director of the tribal government’s conservation office, there have been no signs of a rat and the sighting is still unconfirmed. She said their staff immediately put out traps and trail cams, and are working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Maritime Refuge staff to place additional materials like black lights, which they will use to detect feces.

Traps are baited with peanut butter, and staff is monitoring daily for any signs of the rat. Signs include things like droppings, chew marks and shredded fibers or debris.

The tribal government asks locals to keep all food and waste properly stored or disposed of. If you spot a rat or evidence of one, or if you’d like to have traps placed around your home, call the conservation office at 907-615-5306.

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