MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The University of Minnesota Raptor Center will head to the Galapagos island of Pinzón next week in a continuing effort to help the endangered Pinzón giant tortoises and hawks.

The tortoises are currently listed as “extinct in the wild” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

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The Raptor Center previously participated in a 2011 effort to eradicate invasive black rats that threaten the island’s delicate ecosystem.

This trip will also focus on trapping and protecting the Galapagos hawk while scientists work to poison the rat population. The Raptor Center will hold the hawks in captivity for six weeks to keep them from eating the poisoned rats – thus preventing second-hand poisoning.

The island’s black rats are thought to have been brought to the Galapagos by 17th century pirates or whalers. The rats have fed on the eggs and hatchlings of the giant tortoise – preventing successful reproduction for nearly 150 years.

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The giant tortoises have been bred and raised in captivity for the past 45 years, and are returned to wild around age 4 when they are considered less vulnerable to the rats.

Julia Ponder, D.V.M., executive director of The Raptor Center, says the center’s participation is a “natural fit.”

“Invasive species pose an incredible threat to native animals in Galapagos,” Ponder said. “It is a privilege to be able to work with this international partnership, bringing our expertise with raptors to a field project that will have such profound and impactful effects such as restoring an ecosystem balance and saving another species from extinction.”

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You can read about Ponder’s experiences on Pinzón at The Raptor Center’s blog.