Rats in Paradise


July 27, 2023

Photo: Dmitry_SaparoviStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Floreana was the first island to be colonized by Ecuadorians, in 1832. Photo: Dmitry_SaparoviStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

A little more than 3,000 miles directly due south of Bell Laboratories’ corporate headquarters in Windsor, Wis., lies an ecologically diverse chain of islands made world-famous by both Charles Darwin and the tortoises that bear the island chain’s name itself: Galápagos.

Floreana is the sixth-largest island in the Galápagos archipelago. It is home to numerous native species, as well as 54 different International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. The shield volcano island formed over 1.5 million years ago, and is comprised of dry, desert regions as well as damp rainforests.

While Floreana Island couldn’t be any less similar to the big, modern cities of North America, both areas are united in sharing one common enemy: commensal rodents.

Over the past 22 years, Bell has been involved in more than 100 conservation projects, partnering with environmental groups such as the Charles Darwin Foundation and Island Conservation (IC), to join in the fight against invasive rats and mice in ecologically sensitive locations. Introduced by whalers in the 1700s, rats and mice have long disrupted the once-idyllic island, eating eggs from birds, lizards and tortoises, and then eating the plants the native species on the island used for food and shelter. Because Floreana Island covers an area of nearly 67 square miles, working to eradicate invasive rodents and restore a sustainable balance to the habitat is a massive undertaking.

Project Floreana has been in the planning stages for almost 10 years. While providing supplies to the IC group, the Bell team helped work through this project’s specific set of challenges: Not only would this be geographically the largest undertaking of its kind, with demanding terrain, but Floreana is also inhabited year-round by approximately 160 residents. Convincing locals who are living in a very remote area to get on board with a large project that will impact their environment can be a complicated and time-consuming process.

However, the disease and destruction to crops and food caused by the roof rats (Rattus rattus) and house mice (Mus musculus) on the island have paved the way for Floreana locals to understand that, by working together alongside foreign conservationists, a healthy and truly sustainable ecosystem could be attainable.

Customized rodent bait

Bespoke is not typically a term associated with rodent control, but creating rodenticide for an island that has rainforest vegetation and arid, dry regions must be custom-made. Bell’s research and development team created an intermediate island conservation bait, shaped into 3/8-inch pellets, that was developed to work efficiently in both wet and dry environments.

Having worked with the IC group in the Galápagos region before on smaller island projects such as Rabida, Pinzón and North Seymour, all parties involved have been able to look back at those projects as trial runs leading up to Floreana.


The Galápagos giant tortoise is the largest living species of tortoise. PHOTO: ISLAND CONSERVATION

In October, the project will finally commence, after the supply of Bell rodenticide for the program arrives at the Ecuadorian island via boats traveling through the Panama Canal. It has been quite the infrastructure process, as it was necessary to build concrete pads for helicopters and roads for trucks on the island. Sixty percent of Floreana’s residents plan to participate in the distribution of materials for the project, as well as work alongside IC to assist in this enormous effort to eradicate rats and mice from the island.

Reduce pests, restore native species

IC’s mission is simple: “To restore Floreana Island’s ecosystem by removing invasive species in order to protect the island’s rare and endangered plants and animals and benefit the local community.” Restoration to Floreana can begin once the roof rats and house mice have been eradicated. Species that have struggled to survive will be reestablished on the island, including the Galápagos giant tortoise (Chelonoidis niger); the Floreana racer (Pseudalsophis biserialis biserialis); five species of Darwin’s finches (Thraupidae); the vermilion flycatcher (Pyrocephalus obscurus); the Galápagos rail (Laterallus spilonota); the Galápagos hawk (Buteo galapagoensis); the lava gull (Leucophaeus fuliginosus); and the Floreana mockingbird (Mimus trifasciatus).

While this mission is specific to Floreana island in the Pacific Ocean, Bell’s participation makes perfect sense. Near or far, warm or cold, heavily populated or sparse — no matter the environment, rodents will flourish and cause disease and destruction. Pest control is extremely important. Employing integrated pest management (IPM) strategies to eradicate and keep rodents under control is crucial to both human health and the ability for native plant and animal species to thrive.

Bell Lab’s Project Support Team

Restoring native ecosystems in faraway lands requires a team that is willing to embrace and overcome challenges. After more than 100 island conservation projects, Bell’s team is poised to take on the unique and daunting obstacles that come with such large-scale programs. Because of the idiosyncrasies of each island nation’s requirements — be it politics, shipping, packaging, bait type, topography — no project is the same. It requires a complete team effort to make these projects possible.

Project management

“The challenges are essentially infinite, but that’s the nature of the system,” admits Bell’s Regulatory Affairs Manager Craig Riekena, who serves as the liaison between Bell and the various island restoration groups.

One of the first hurdles in determining feasibility of a project is Riekena working closely with the production team to make sure they can handle the demand of such an order. “They always do,” he adds.
After that, Riekena works through all the pertinent criteria and details with the team, to get the order finalized. Going through all these steps can sometimes take up to a year, if not longer.
Once the order is finalized, “I pretty much stay out of the way and leave our order processing, production, packaging, quality control, and shipping folks to do what they are great at,” Riekena says. “We are links in a chain.”

Quality assurance

Demanding projects require a strong team mentality, and a key person Riekena routinely relies on is Quality Assurance Manager Scott Carpenter.

“One of the most difficult tasks associated with these projects is organizing all the intangible elements to ensure that the right formulation is used, and the analytics adhere to predetermined expectations,” Carpenter says. “Following up with colleagues is also essential, to ensure that all aspects are being completed correctly. In the end, I know everyone will do their part accurately and effectively.”

Customer service

Customer Service Director Amy Breunig oversees the coordination of each shipment from Bell to the project locations. Until each shipment arrives, she is in constant communication with Bell staff, the project staff, and the forwarding agent about any delays or changes in the order status.

Despite the challenges that each project presents, this trio agrees that projects like these are some of the most rewarding undertakings they’ve done at Bell. This says a lot, as Riekena and Breunig have been Bell employees for more than 30 years each, and Carpenter for 25 years and counting.

Learn more online at BellLabs.com.

Leave A Comment

Comments are closed.