St. Paul Island's rogue rat has met its demise after 10 months of evading capture and living large at the local fish plant.
The rat was found dead last weekend by a visiting birder. The discovery has sent tempered relief throughout the community, which has worked for decades to remain rodent-free.
St. Paul is a haven for millions of nesting seabirds. It's also one of the few island communities in the world that has been able to protect its rich wildlife from invasive rodents.
They chartered a flight for a "strike team" of eradication experts. They installed motion-sensor game cameras to track the invader. And they tried a half-dozen trap types with all kinds of bait — from candy bars and fish oil to peanut butter and bacon grease.
Everything was handled with special gloves to avoid introducing scents that would scare off the rat. But after 10 frustrating months and several near-misses, responders finally deployed rodenticide, or rat poison.
"Yes! I'm so excited! It is very, very dead," said Lauren Divine of the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island's Ecosystem Conservation Office (ECO).
She said the good news came June 30 when a birdwatching tourist saw the carcass beneath a fish plant stairwell. It's now being kept in a freezer until it can be necropsied.
"It looked like a very fat, happy rat," said Divine. "I'd like to have it taxidermied and mounted to come back to St. Paul for education stuff — to have it on display. But mostly, I'm just curious to know: What reproductive status was it in?"
While responders said they've seen no evidence of a litter, they want to be completely sure this was the only rat. They're planning to maintain increased monitoring efforts for at least the next few weeks.
"Super happy. Super relieved. But also I'm terrified," said Heather Renner of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, which partnered with St. Paul's tribal government, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the nonprofit Island Conservation.
"This is just a reminder that the threat is real and that there are rats making it onto our islands," said Renner.
The dead rodent likely sneaked in from a boat at the harbor, getting by the dozens and dozens of traps that make up St. Paul's year-round prevention program.
That security has been standard for decades and has stopped a handful of rats in the past. Renner said it'll stay in place even after the latest response ramps down.
"There's a constant forever war that's going to have to be held to keep them off," she said. "Fingers crossed this is the only one, but this is going to have to be approached really vigilantly forever."
For now, St. Paul officials said they're enjoying a modest celebration of their rat-free status — while keeping an eye on those traps.