• Post category:2013 / News
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22 April 2013 | By Jennifer Lee

The island of South Georgia is a British oversees territory situated to the north of the Antarctic Peninsula. Despite being a wildlife heaven, human activities have had profound impacts on the flora and fauna of the island. The first introduction of reindeer to South Georgia was in 1911, when ten animals were released on the Barff Peninsula to serve as food for whalers living there. During the whaling era reindeer numbers were controlled by regular shooting but after the halt of land-based whaling the numbers increased rapidly and in early 2013 there were estimated to be 4 000 to 5 000 animals on the island.

The high density of reindeer in coastal areas causes severe overgrazing of native tussock grass, prickly burr (Acaena magellanica) and lichens. Overgrazing has resulted in loss of plant cover and erosion of the shallow topsoil layer, and the destruction of burrows of ground-nesting seabirds such as prions and petrels.

In 2010 the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (GSGSSI) made the decision to remove the invasive reindeer from the island. C·I·B Research Associate Dr Jennifer Lee, who is currently the Environment Officer for the GSGSSI, has been the project manager in charge of co-ordinating the eradication operation.

In January and February 2013, a group of Norwegian experts, including indigenous Sami herders and expert marksmen, joined  Dr Lee and others to remove the first of the two herds of reindeer that are present on the island. In central areas, the team of Sami herders gathered the reindeer into an enclosure where they were humanely killed under veterinary supervision. In outlying areas, where it was not possible to herd the animals into enclosures, they were shot by experienced marksmen from the Norwegian Nature Inspectorate.

Reindeer herding with the derelict Husvik whaling station in the background
Reindeer herding with the derelict Husvik whaling station in the background. Photo credits: Sam Crimmin

In parallel with the removal of reindeer, several scientific research projects are being undertaken, including the establishment of long-term monitoring of plants, birds and invertebrates to track the recovery of the island’s systems after the eradication.

For more information, contact Dr Jennifer Lee at env@gov.gs

Reindeer with King Penguins in the background
Reindeer with King Penguins in the background. Photo credits: Alastair Wilson