How Genetically Modified Mice Could One Day Save Island Birds

Borel, B,  Audubon,  2017.

The silent black-and-white footage opens on a seemingly tranquil setting: a burrow where an Atlantic Petrel tends to its chick. Then mice begin scurrying in and out of frame. The dark blurs jostle the adult, darting up to the exposed chick and tearing off bloody bites. They’re eating it alive.; ; The horrific scene is captured by nest cams on Gough (rhymes with “off”), a rugged volcanic island about 1,700 miles west of South Africa. It has one of the world’s largest seabird nesting colonies, with millions of birds representing 22 species. It’s also home to hundreds of thousands of mice, descendants of stowaways on 19th-century seal-hunting ships. The tiny predators devour some 900,000 chicks a year and threaten to decimate the island’s Atlantic Petrels and Tristan Albatrosses, which breed here almost exclusively. In a rodent-free landscape, more than two-thirds of the albatross chicks should make it to adulthood; on Gough, mice cut survival to as low as 10 percent.