|Object Title: Flight helmet
Object Number: 2016.16
This flight helmet is an object from the more recent history of the island. It was worn by Peter Garden, the Chief helicopter pilot for the Habitat Restoration Project led by South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT). The helmet is white with a red visor and microphone. It has the dead rat motif on the back which was used as the mascot for the rat eradication project.
Rats have been a large and important problem on island of South Georgia. They were introduced by whalers and sealers after 1775 when Captain Cook first landed on the island (there are no natural land mammals on South Georgia). Rats stowed away on the ships and found a plentiful supply of food by preying on birds’ eggs and young chicks, insects, tussac root and beach detritus. Brown rats, Rattus norvegicus, and house mice, Mus musculus, persisted into the 21st century. It is likely that black rats, Rattus rattus, were also introduced but were unable to survive the hostile, cold climate.
Rats dramatically reduced the bird populations of the smaller species and threatened some species with extinction. An example of this is the endemic South Georgia Pipit which was no longer found in rat infested areas on the island before the project.
South Georgia’s larger glaciers were barriers to rodent movement, resulting in numerous independent sub-island populations. The eradication could therefore be spread over multiple seasons, giving time to evaluate results before recommencing, and also reducing the impact of non-target mortality across the island as a whole. The Habitat Restoration Project consisted of 3 baiting phases (2011, 2013, 2015) and a final 4th definitive survey phase carried out by SGHT in 2017/18 on the areas it baited in 2011, 2013 and 2015. The charity began to clear brown rats Rattus norvegicus and house mice Mus musculus from the island using helicopters to spread bait containing Brodifacoum as the active ingredient.
The endemic South Georgia pipit, Anthus antarcticus, was the first bird to breed in newly rat-free areas, but there were also signs that burrow/cavity-nesting seabirds were exploring scree habitat denied them for generations. Enhanced biosecurity measures have been introduced by the Government of South Georgian to prevent the reintroduction of invasive species.
On 8 May 2018 SGHT announced the outcome of the Phase 4, 2017-18 survey of all of the baited areas, and South Georgia was officially declared rodent-free, the first time in centuries
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