The controversial killing of wild rabbits in Chubut and its impact on biodiversity

The controversial killing of wild rabbits in Chubut and its impact on biodiversity
The controversial killing of wild rabbits in Chubut and its impact on biodiversity

Postcard of the Patagonia Austral Coastal Marine Park, located in Chubut. (Photo: Argentina.gob.ar)

A new complaint for environmental damage – which adds to the imminent oral trial for the Punta Tombo penguin massacre that occurred in 2021 – worries the inhabitants of the province of Chubut.

It’s about a program to eliminate wild rabbits on the islands Valdés, Tova and Tovita of the Southern Patagonia Coastal Marine Interjurisdictional Park (PIMCPA), a protected area that is located north of the San Jorge Gulf.

The criminal complaint filed by a rural resident of the area before the Rawson Prosecutor’s Office and subsequently referred to Comodoro Rivadavia originates in the use of toxic poison to eradicate exotic species on the islands that belong to the park.

This complaint puts in the spotlight the plan carried out by the Rewilding Argentina Foundation that resulted in the slaughter of 790 wild rabbitsfor which they were used 10 tons of “a highly toxic and bioaccumulative poisonhe brodifacoumwithout an essential prior evaluation of the real impact of the exotic species carried out by experts and of the risks to the environment and native species,” according to the lawsuit.

Rabbits were introduced in the 19th century in Tierra del Fuego and from there they expanded to Chubut, Santa Cruz. (Photo: Aves.com.ar)

Although this program It was carried out with the authorization of the Undersecretary of Conservation and Protected Areas of Chubut in 2021, prosecutor Juan C. Caperochipi, in charge of the case, has already ordered the first evidentiary measures to determine the seriousness of the facts.

The park, located on the east coast of the province, north of the San Jorge Gulf, between Cape Dos Bahías and Quintano Island, and whose surface is 104,812 hectaresof which 31,052 belong to the coastal area and 73,760 to the marina and islands, is intended for the protection of Patagonian biodiversity managed by the National Parks Administration and the province of Chubut.

Since 2018, it has had a Management Program agreed between private and state actors. According to those familiar with the subject, this co-government usually generates management conflicts and, “although Parques has a presence in the area, in general It is the province that ends up making the decisions”.

consulted by DEFfrom the Rewilding Foundation stated “not answering questions related to the topic in question”.

There is mortality in species that were not the target of the poison, such as penguins. (Photo: DEF file)

Introduced to the island of Land of Fire in the 19th and 20th centurieswild rabbits are currently found in various provinces such as Chubut, Neuquén, San Juan and Santa Cruz.

Regarding the reasons for their presence on the Patagonian islands, the versions are varied, but perhaps the most plausible is the one that states that they were taken by locals to be used as food in case of shipwreck, as it was a difficult area to navigate. Probably, to regulate the presence of this exotic species, domestic cats were later introduced.

10 tons of “a highly toxic and bioaccumulative poison”, brodifacoum, were used. (Photo: DEF file)

After his declaration as species harmful to biodiversity Through a resolution of the then Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development of the Nation in December 2020, government agencies were authorized to coordinate actions for its control or eradication, in order to prevent its expansion.

In this context, the Rewilding Argentina Foundation presented the authorities with a extermination plan in which he highlighted the negative impacts of exotic species on native ones and gave examples of the damage caused by invasive rabbits in different parts of the world.

Image of Tova Island. (Photo: argentina.gob.ar)

The specialists consulted by DEF question Rewilding’s arguments because, they claim, they are based on facts that are not supported by any study with scientific rigor. Among other irregularities, they highlight that it is not proven that rabbits steal nesting spaces from penguins and that no investigation was carried out to verify how the poison percolates into the soilsince, even if the tablets disappear, there are chemicals that persist in the substrate and cause damage.

The Management Plan indicates that it is necessary to execute a program to eradicate invasive species in general and, according to experts, of the several that exist in the region – for example, crabs and algae -, rabbits are the least problematicsince they are on the offshore islands and it is impossible for them to jump to the mainland.

The problem, they say, is not only the lack of certainty about the need to implement extermination actions, but, if it is imperative, who is authorized to carry them out. “The organizations qualified to apply any control method, if necessary, may be Conicet, government agencies or agencies authorized by the government. In other words, It cannot be left in the hands of a private person or an NGO, unless determined by the State and under its supervision,” they state. And they insist that “an NGO is not a recognized academic institution, It is essential to submit the project to an external consultationand even more so if the method used is poison.”

In addition to the actions of the Foundation, a no small issue to analyze is the role of the State when granting permits.

European rabbit specimen. (Photo: DEF file)

He rodenticide which was spread across the island in a disproportionate amount It is highly lethal and has a residual effect of about six months on the organs and tissues of dead animalsa fact that represents a high risk for other species of native and scavenger birds.

According to specialists, There are records of mortality in species that were not the target of the poison. And they say that, in 2022, a student from the faculty and a Conicet scholarship recipient who were analyzing the impact of exotic species visited Tova Island and saw poison pills next to dead animals: birds, birds and penguins.

The Foundation poured tons of poison into the rabbit holes. (Photo: argentina.gob.ar)

In fact, in the Foundation’s report, it is recognized that there are other dead species, such as caranchos, chingolos, doves, among others. “Since there is no real control by the State, it is impossible to know the severity,” the neighbors complain. And the truth is that this poison, due to its potency and duration, is restricted or prohibited in natural and rural areas of several countries, including the United States, despite which it was used indiscriminately in the park, even in penguin nests.

As far as he could know DEFwhile Hundreds of kilos of poison have been dumped on the islands awaiting a resolutionthe investigation into this action that calls into question the cost-benefit equation.

 
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