The British island, located near Antarctica, has been inundated with the ‘invasive’ animals since 1911, when a heard of 10 reindeer was brought over by Norwegians in need of food source while on whaling missions in the remote area.
But the reindeer population, the world’s most southerly herd, has grown substantially since then, up to 5,000 at the last count, and have impacted greatly on the local environment since their arrival.
Trampling native plants, endangering local king penguins and other local birds like the South Georgia pipit and pintail – by destroying their nests and attacking their habitats – and causing erosion, the reindeer have become quite a pest to the island’s natural environment.
“The reindeer have become very destructive,” said Reidar Andersen, director of the Norweigan Nature Inspectorate, which is oversaw the operation to capture and destroy the reindeer.
“Several decades of over-grazing means that the reindeer are a severe threat to birds that are only found on this island,” Andersen added.
The Norwegians were summoned with the task of ridding the island of the non-native reindeer species, using the expertise and knowledge of the Sami people – who live with animals.
Reindeer were corralled into pens, built by locals, and then slaughtered by the 16-strong hunting team, using a gun shot to the head. Marksmen were brought in to shoot the animals in remote areas.
“It will be an amazing change for the island” to have no reindeer, Martin Collins, chief executive of the government of South Georgia, told reporters.
1,500 reindeer still remain on the island and will be culled and destroyed in a final stage of the operation next year.
South Georgia is also working on a similar project to rid the island of rats and mice, another example of invasive species, which arrived in the 18th and 19th century and were brought over by ships.
The operation is just one example of the global problem of invasive species, with unwanted animals causing havoc to native wildlife, spreading disease and even undermining local food production at an estimated cost of $1.4 trillion a year.
The reindeer meat will be taken and sold to the Falkland Islands to offset the cost of the operation.