Santa Cruz Island--Poised for Recovery

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Date: August 28, 2007
Contact: Yvonne Menard, 805-658-5725

The Nature Conservancy and the National Park Service (NPS) announced today the successful completion of a two-year program to eradicate feral pigs from Santa Cruz Island in order to save the endangered island fox and nine rare plants from extinction. This is the second largest project of its kind in the world and a major step toward the ecological restoration of the 96-square-mile island, located 25 miles off the coast of Santa Barbara.

“We are already seeing many positive changes on Santa Cruz Island as a result of removing feral sheep during the past two decades”, said Russell Galipeau, Channel Islands National Park Superintendent. “Elimination of the pigs was the last islandwide action necessary to protect and restore the unique plants and animals on Santa Cruz.”

Launched in April 2005, the eradication program was completed in record time by Prohunt Inc., a professional hunting firm from New Zealand that specializes in island conservation through the elimination of non-native animals. Feral pigs were removed from fenced zones on the island by employing a strategic regime of aerial hunting, walk-in corral traps and ground hunting with tracking dogs. Neither snare traps nor poisons were used. A total of 5,036 pigs were dispatched using non-lead bullets and following euthanasia guidelines set forth by the American Medical Veterinary Association.

“Based on extensive monitoring over the past year we believe the island is pig-free,” said Dr. Lotus Vermeer, director of The Nature Conservancy’s Santa Cruz Island Preserve. “We are now well on our way to restoring the biological balance of the island and saving unique species found nowhere else on Earth.”

Feral pigs were originally imported to Santa Cruz Island as domestic farm animals in the 1850s. But over time, they rooted up native vegetation, caused massive erosion, spread invasive weeds and destroyed archeological sites. The pigs also attracted a new predator to the island, the golden eagle, which hunted the endangered island fox to near extinction.

The decision to eradicate the pigs followed years of scientific review of alternative options. The pigs could not be brought to the mainland because of their potential to spread disease to domestic livestock. Contraceptives and sterilants, while sometimes useful for animal control, have not been proven effective in the eradication of pigs. The final cost of the eradication program, shared by TNC and NPS, was approximately five million.

Pig removal was a critical component of an ambitious science-based program to preserve Santa Cruz Island’s biological richness for future generations. The Nature Conservancy and the NPS are working together to save the island fox, relocate golden eagles to the mainland, re-establish bald eagles, control invasive weeds and restore native plant habitats.

Last updated: February 27, 2015

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