Giant Flesh-Eating House Mice Found on Island off South Africa

INFRA-red footage showing a "superbreed" of giant flesh-eating house mice chewing into an albatross chick has been used as a stark warning of what awaits pest-infested Macquarie Island.

Tasmanian Conservation Trust (TCT) spokesman Alistair Graham said the rodents on British-controlled Gough Island off South Africa in the South Atlantic had evolved to become predators, growing to three times their normal size.

“The evidence that normal house mice on Gough Island have evolved to become predators gives us very serious concern the same thing is happening on Macquarie Island,” he said.

More than 100,000 grazing rabbits and plagues of rats and mice are threatening endangered species on World Heritage-listed Macquarie Island, 1500km southeast of Tasmania.

Rabbits are devastating the island's indigenous fauna, causing landslips to crash into penguin rookeries and destroy albatross breeding sites. Exploding rat and mice numbers are also causing huge concern.

The island is considered part of Tasmania, but the federal government has responsibility for World Heritage areas.

A political row has erupted over who will pay for its pest eradication program estimated at $16.5 million.

The federal government has offered to pay half, but the state government is refusing to pay a cent, saying the Commonwealth has a massive budget surplus.

The footage was released today by the TCT and the Tasmanian Greens.

Graham said the time had come for the Lennon Labor Government to hand the island over to the Commonwealth before an “international environmental catastrophe” takes place.

“It is obvious that Tasmania neither has the means or the will to manage this remote tiny speck and it would be much better off if it were in the hands of the federal government,” he said.

“We are really hoping that the Tasmanian government, in recognition of the serious plight of these animals, will do the honourable thing and agree to hand over the island to the federal government.”

Graham said it was “simply not politically feasible” to expect the federal government to pay 100 per cent of the cost when the state government has a major responsibility.

“By tradition and convention the federal government will offer a portion, usually 50-50 ... but they always expect the state government to pay something in recognition it is state responsibility, which is true of Macquarie Island.”

Graham said that the study on Gough Island was undertaken because of declining numbers of the endangered Trisan albatrosses.

“What we have discovered was quite shocking,” he said.

“This type of thing has been going on under the noses of researchers for some time and it wasn't until infra-red night footage set-up with remote control cameras that it was discovered.”

He said the albatross chicks on Gough Island had no behavioural response to mice attacks and it was simply “death by 1000 cuts” for the fledgling species.