Researchers with Parks Canada are asking residents of Prince Rupert to bring them rat parts that are still in “good shape.”
Specifically, they’re looking for rat ears and tails, which will help them create a library of DNA to track the invasive species and determine how they invaded northwest British Columbia to begin with.
“The history of rat infestation on Haida Gwaii isn’t completely clear,” Robyn Irvine, a conservation and restoration project manager for Parks Canada, told CBC Daybreak North.
According to Irvine, these rats—and other invasive species like them—are “the number one threat to ecological integrity.”
The rats are a particularly big threat to seabirds like the ancient murrelet, which was once an abundant seasonal food source for the local Haida people, but is now considered at-risk.
“[The rats] have taken seabird colonies that were numbering in the 8,000s in the 1980s down to zero,” Irvine told the Northern View.
Parks Canada began efforts to eradicate the rats in 2009. Just last spring, they targeted four islands in Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve by air-dropping poison pellets on three of the four islands. Although they killed about 120 other creatures—mainly crows and ravens—in the process, they successfully eradicated the rats from two of the islands. At the time, Parks Canada conservation manager Tyler Peet told reporters that these islands’ ecological systems, including seabirds, crabs, and some vegetation, was slowly recovering.
Now they’re hoping that the DNA they can retrieve from crowdsourced rat parts will help them understand the rats’ movement. Prince Rupert was added to the DNA sample list because it’s a main transportation route for goods and people travelling between B.C.’s mainland and the rat-infested islands.
Depending on what the researchers find, they could potentially work with organizations like B.C. Ferries and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to stop the rats from moving back and forth.
Those interested in helping can drop ears and tails off at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) office in Prince Rupert. To save freezer space at the DFO, they’re looking for small samples—just a couple of centimetres off the tail or an ear—that can be cut off with a sharp pair of scissors and placed in a Ziploc bag.
Irvine told CBC that the samples also have to be in reasonably good shape, because if they’re really rotten or broken down it could affect the DNA.