Black Rats, Keep Out! Tiny Rimatara Island Starts a Big Fight Against Invasive Species

“Every time the cargo ship arrives, I go with Koha, and we check every container coming ashore,” said Mooroa, who works for the nature conservation Association RIMA’URA. “If he smells a rat, people will make a circle around the container, then open it … and Koha does the rest.”

Photo: YouTube/Philip Griffin

Koha is a smart, spirited border terrier mix who is an expert in sniffing out and killing invasive black rats. He is the only hero of his kind on the small island of Rimatara, home to the endangered Rimatara lorikeet — a bird of exotic beauty.

Why the Rimatara Lorikeet was Almost Hunted to Extinction

Rimatara is a three-and-a-half square mile island that’s located in French Polynesia. Out of the 118 islands in the region, Rimatara is one of only three islands without invasive rats, which is especially important to islanders like Moora who are dedicated to protecting Rimatara’s ecology and its native lorikeet.

Listed as a critically endangered bird species, the Rimatara lorikeet used to be populous in the South Pacific. It is adorned with a blue and green crest, along with a lovely crimson chest. Due to its exotic beauty, the bird was hunted almost to extinction by the Polynesians in the 18th century. The natives used its feathers for headdresses and cloaks.

Photo: YouTube/Philip Griffin

Now, there are only about 1,500 Rimatara lorikeets in the wild — about 500 of them on Rimatara Island. The island’s queen, Temaeva V, tried her best to save the species in the 1900s by imposing a ban on the hunting of Rimatara lorikeets. But still, the remaining 1,000 birds decreased to just 500 due to other threats like habitat loss and nest competition with other birds.

In an effort to help the Rimatara lorikeet thrive again, 27 of them were taken to Atiu, part of the Cook Islands archipelago in 2007. The conservation effort that was initiated by Rima Ura and the Cook Island Natural Heritage Trust in collaboration with international and government entities proved successful. Atiu is now home to at least 400 Rimatara lorikeets, with several also dwelling in atolls.

How the Rimatara Island is Saving Its Precious Native Bird

However, Rima Ura founder and head of conservation at the Polynesian Ornithological Society Caroline Blanvillain became concerned that the lorikeets may become extinct on the tiny Rimatura island, which is now rapidly developing almost half of its territory for tourism, agricultural, commercial, and residential purposes.

Photo: YouTube/Philip Griffin

And so Rima Ura started education campaigns so the locals could help in conserving the Rimatara lorikeet. Aside from keeping black rats out of the island, the organization motivated homeowners to plant more fruit trees in their yards to make up for habitat loss.

Rima Ura members also help by marking nesting trees and planting more lorikeet-friendly vegetation in Rimatara’s quiet and pristine plateau. They also actively participate in reforestation efforts, all of which form a strong bond among the locals.

“Before, I didn’t have any love for the trees, for nature. It’s only when I became part of Rima Ura that that all changed,” said Tehio Pererina, an elderly schoolteacher and Rima Ura president. “I was given responsibility to do something more, to work from the heart. The ‘Ura, this island, it’s our heritage. We need to preserve it. Doing this, it brings us so much joy.”

People, Pets & Planet

Help where it’s needed most at GreaterGood for free!