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Killing Rats with GPS 101

techmaven writes "When Channel Islands National Park officials needed an estimated about 300 rats exterminated on the east side of environmentally sensitive Anacapa Island, Aspen Ag Helicopters got the call. The kill was necessary because the rodents, descendants of rats that reached the island by way of a shipwreck a century or more ago, were decimating the populations of two rare seabirds. And GPS helped the helicopter company do the job."
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Killing Rats with GPS

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    They can have their fun now... But what will they do when the big ones come?
  • by XBL ( 305578 ) on Saturday March 23, 2002 @04:11AM (#3212004)
    I want GPS on my TV remote control, so I can find it.
    • So what happens when you lose your GPS unit?
      no TV or GPS (and you cant find your stereo remote or your liveDrive remote or your car keys....)

      • You could get off the couch, look for the teeny-tiny buttons on the tv itself to change channels, hit the off button instead, and go find a book.

        Or you could rant about nothing in particular on /., except your wireless keyboard & mouse are awol too...

        Ob-sort-of-on-topic: The province of Alberta, Canada (where I live) is actually rather proud of being rat-free. Unfortunately, it looks like the tales of it becoming so by means of armed rednecks driving up & down the saskatchewan border are, alas, myth [].
    • by mgv ( 198488 )
      I want GPS on my TV remote control, so I can find it.

      If your remote had a GPS, it would know where it was.
      This might not help as much as you would think :)

    • You know, this would work, until your wife decided to screw with you and throw it on the roof above the living room.
  • Those terrible park officials! They're having those poor rats put to death when all of Ghod's creatures are sacred! What they should do is organize a nice conference where the rats and the seabirds can sit down and air their grievances peacefully, in a spirit of mutual harmony and understanding.

    Seriously, this is pretty cool. Any time technology increases mankind's killing power, I've got to cheer a little bit. After the rats, how about some pigeons (also known as the "gutter bird" and the "winged rat," according to Kent Brockman)?

  • The helicopter just used the GPS to navigate. Meanwhile some guy used GPS to navigate himself out of the desert, and a fisherman captain found his way to pango pango.
  • A little overstated? (Score:3, Informative)

    by thesupraman ( 179040 ) on Saturday March 23, 2002 @04:28AM (#3212039)
    An interesting article, however some of it is a some of this is a little hard to swallow...

    their statenments about delivering sprays and pellets by air with an accuracy of 'within a foot' would be quite a thing to see, especially when you watch what a helicopters downwash does to items dropped from below it, and allowing for the pilots abilities (remember, the computer is not flying the aircraft here) - I think there cuold be a bit of wishfull thinking involved here, but I'm sure it looks good on the enviromental reports.

    I assume they are using DGPS, which is generally available, for example look at: ivers /dgps/index.html
    also for a basic discussion: il.jsp?conten tid=2109
    but this will certainly not guarantee you the accuracies they are claiming, at least not unless they are dropping the loads on the fixed beacons DGPS relies on (most provided by the coast guard in the US, also at some airfields).

    DGPS is a wonderful development on GPS, but is still not that good. Interesting the russian GLONAS system is a little better (if more expensive for receivers) than GPS.
    • their statenments about delivering sprays and pellets by air with an accuracy of 'within a foot' would be quite a thing to see, especially when you watch what a helicopters downwash does to items dropped from below it, and allowing for the pilots abilities (remember, the computer is not flying the aircraft here)

      It's not impossible. I used to bull's-eye womp rats in my T-sixteen back home. They're not much bigger than two meters.

    • by morcheeba ( 260908 ) on Saturday March 23, 2002 @01:39PM (#3213183) Journal
      Although I tried to find evidence on Aspen's site [], it wasn't much use (I think they just win an award for terseness - particularily their history []). There was some more info [] on Trimble's website. The AgGPS 132 [] is the receiver used - it uses satellite-based private subscription differential correction services and the public WAAS.

      My initial guess was that the system computer-controlled the sprayers, so that when the GPS system detected that the aircraft was over the correct field and over a not-already-sprayed area, it would trigger the sprayers. To compensate for overlap, some individual sprayer jets may not fire so as to not re-apply over the same area.

      But that thinking was all wrong. The Trimflight 3 brochure pdf [] describes the system very well - it's a precise guidance system aimed at cropdusters-- it includes measuring the field, determining a coverage pattern, guiding the pilot through that coverage pattern (with the help of a lightbar to indicate how far off-track they are), and then doing the recordkeeping to record what was sprayed where. It interfaces to a Crophawk flowmeter [], but doesn't look like it controls the flow. This brochure also shows a helicopter doing application - the spray looks like a normal fixed-wing spray; I'm not sure why the downwash isn't blowing it all over!
  • Starwars missle defense system.. aww yeah. :)
  • by Monkelectric ( 546685 ) <slashdot@mon k e l e c t r i c . com> on Saturday March 23, 2002 @04:30AM (#3212043)
    If they miss just a male and a female rat, the new rats will breed and the offspring will be immune to GPS :=)
  • Hard to beleive... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by CanadaDave ( 544515 )
    ...that they sprayed enough pesticide on a small island to kill all 100-300 rats. Either they killed them all, as well as every other living organism on the island that is roughly the same size as a rat, or they didn't kill every rat. Rats are decently sized, it's a lot different than killing insect pests. Insect pests might require a few ppm (parts-per-million) pesticide in the air, but the kill a rat, hamster, gerbil, mouse, bird, anything of that size, would require much much more "pesticide." They must have required quite a lethal dose to get all 100-300 of them, as the article says. Not to mention the fact that the dose would have to be increased to take into account that a lot of the particles will attach themselves to plants, trees, etc... which are above ground. This will not contribute to airborn particles, and will not be able to kill a rat (unless they are of the mutated tree-climbing variety!) So the bottom line is, the dosage must have been huge for this small island. Or else there are still some rats around which have survived. They have probably started mating already. I think bringing in some owls might have been a smarter idea.
    • Regular non-mutated rats can climb anything. Trees included. They often climb utility poles then walk down the wires to gain access to houses.
    • ... so they didn't have to soak the place with RAID. I'm guessing that it is possible to make bait which is attractive to rats, but not birds.

      Santa Anacapa is three really small islands, so I doubt there are any native land mammals there (or ones which aren't common on nearby islands.) Santa Cruz island has some native foxes, but that's about it. The seals are quite happy in the area, though. Maybe the beaches are the areas where the poison isn't allowed.

      • well the article says something like:

        The system is designed to disperse materials in a 360-degree swath, but because pilot Miskel had to keep the pesticide pellets out of the sea, the spray angle had to be cut to 45 degrees.

        which i believe is to protect the birds:

        The kill was necessary because the rodents, descendants of rats that reached the island by way of a shipwreck a century or more ago, were decimating the populations of two rare seabirds.

        so evidently they were worried about the birds eating the stuff.

        there are links to the article so we can read them and discuss it. just because the editors dont read the articles doesnt mean we have to follow their example.
    • There are poisons that are quite specific to rats and their close relative, so it is unlikely that they "killed every other living organism on the island that is roughly the same size as a rat".

      The folks at the USF&W know more about biology than you do, that's clear. Having worked with USF&W biologists in the past I can assure you that on average they're quite knowledgable. Nowadays it's hard to get in without an MS earned in a discipline that requires a lot of field work, usually helping a professor whose studying habitat needs of a particular critter or something similar.
  • A Trimflight 3 system []. I work next to the people who designed this system here in New Zealand. And they might have even been using the GPS receiver that I write firmware for, the Ag214 [] (Also known as the MS750). But they were probably using the Ag132 [] which only does DGPS instead of RTK.

    I'm sure this URL will be circulating around the Ag division of Trimble tomorrow :-)

  • First Chase The Rabbit [] then Killing Rats []...


    if ($nextStory =~ /{
    $CmdrTacoBachelorParty = $tonight;
  • by Anonymous Coward
    "Any sufficiently advanced technology is great at killing rats." - Arthur C. Clarke
  • by Ilan Volow ( 539597 ) on Saturday March 23, 2002 @05:25AM (#3212117) Homepage
    They could have just wrecked a second ship that happened to contain several hundred cats.
    • They could have just wrecked a second ship that happened to contain several hundred cats.

      Possibly they didn't introduce cats to eat the rats because they thought the cats might be even more effective at destroying the rare seabirds they wanted to preserve, than the rats were.

      Presumably the rats were decimating the sea birds by eating their eggs, where the cats could not only eat the eggs, but eat the birds themselves.

    • Normally predator introduction won't wipe out a target species. It's been tried many times, with an astonishing lack of success. So your cat idea is as worthless as the previously stated owl idea.

      One problem is that rats have co-evolved with any of the predators one might choose to introduce and are well adapted to avoid them. Predators might make a dent in the rat population but there's no way the rat population would be eradicated.

      But that's not the worst problem with your idea, which has been rated a "4" by the clueless Slashdot crowd. Here's why:

      The seabirds in question, like many species of seabird, have evolved a breeding strategy based on isolation from land-based predators rather than active defense.

      Land birds use a variety of techniques to avoid land-based predators. They hide their nests, build them on floating vegetation far from shore, build them up in trees, etc etc.

      The sea birds in question get all the food they need to raise their chicks from the sea, so have no reason to breed in ecosystems that include diverse food sources along with the land-based predators that invariably are part of such ecosystems.

      They just breed on remote islands that lack land-based predators capable of taking their eggs or chicks. They mass together as a defense against avian predators (who often breed on the same islands) much like B-17s massed against German fighters in WWII. Unfortunately these dense colonies are very vulnerable to introduced land-based predators.

      The rat is one such land-based predator.

      But ... a quiz for the clueless ... what's the most common and successful urban predator of birds, birds that have evolved defenses against land-based predators?

      Is it the rat?

      No, of course not, it is the cat.

      So the brilliant idea here is to protect the seabirds against the rat by introducing cats, a far more efficient bird predator! Can you imagine the havoc cats would do in such a circumstance?

      You don't have to imagine it, actually ... feral cats are a horrible problem in island ecosystems in which they've been introduced.

      So ... this leaves us with the owl idea. Owls, which also frequently dine on birds ... hmmm. Maybe not such a good idea either, eh?

    • This would only compound the problem - don't forget the victims here are birds. Cats and birds don't mix. Rats eats the eggs, cats eats the birds themselves.
    • Well, at least a couple of us know the story about Borneo.
      Day They Parachuted Cats on Borneo []
  • Of course, what they haven't told you is that in the time it took for those choppers to lay down the rat poison, enough of those "rare seabirds" flew through the propellors to ensure their extinction.

    Oh well, getting to use GPS is cool.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    You know they fantasize about doing this to people.
  • And GPS helped the helicopter company do the job. who obviously hadn't heard of cheese and traps. (and exactly how are you supposed to aim at a rat from a helicopter I ask you)?
  • ...the whole idea of survival of the fittest is dead. I don't see where they get off killing all of those rodents in order to protect a couple of rare birds. If the birds cant survive thats their problem. Damn meddling humans, and that dog. Oh well, just my 2 cents.
    • Playing devil's advocate:

      It was our carelessness that introduced the rats there, so there is some justification.
      • Playing devil's-devil's advocate (angel's advocate?): There's no reason that rats couldn't have been blown onto the island, and the birds have to be ready for that. Species have crossed the ocean that way before. It's a rough world out there.
  • Growers pay about $1,000 an hour for the service.

    I don't know about all this. Increasing yields, paying huge sums of money... in the end, it still means that less and less human intervention is needed, less jobs are created, big farms get richer and smaller farms just can't keep up.

    It's not really like technology is helping democratise here, is it?

    • I don't know about all this. Increasing yields, paying huge sums of money... in the end, it still means that less and less human intervention is needed, less jobs are created, big farms get richer and smaller farms just can't keep up.

      Yup. This trend has only been going on, for what a couple of hundred years now since Mr. McCormick and his reaper. All in all, I consider this a pretty good thing, since it means that we now need about 2% of our population involved in agriculture to feed ourselves, rather than the 50% of the good old days. Food in cheap and plentiful, and I don't have to grow it.

      This is the march of progress - technology makes things more efficient, so you need fewer people doing any given task. Costs go down, and more resources are available for all. Farming is just catching up to what every other industry did back in the 1800's. It's industrializing. You don't wander down to the neighborhood tailor to buy your cloths anymore(unless you've got a good deal of money) and you don't nessecarily buy your food from the family farm anymore. Small isn't efficient. If small famers want to compete, they need to form cooperatives and be as efficient. If not, well, thats capitalism and the other guy is cheaper. It's not as though we don't subsidize farming in ridiculous amounts anyway.
  • Rats living in the wild 'elect' a food taster, who tastes any new food, while the rest of the pack watches. If he/she becmes ill, the rest of the rats don't touch the food.

    Even when living in captivity alone, rats will taste a tiny bit of new food, and see if they become ill, finishing the food if not, so the posion they used would have to be increadibly strong to kill a single rat with a single bite, or very slow acting to kill a pack after the taster has sampled it and given it the OK.

    Clever little critters. I've kept domesticated ones for many years, and they never cease to amaze me with things they do or learn. You can house train them, get them to come when called, and do simple tricks for treats, just like dogs.

    It is reckoned that living in a big city, you are never more than 3 yards away from a wild rat. Nuff said!
  • Then humans.

  • I can't even afford a call phone, why should rodents be allowed to live with GPS!?
    I agree with this post: Kill all the rats with GPS, and give us needy humans some of that technology!

  • This sounds vaguely similar to Sewer Shark, an old school game for Sega CD. Basically, you flew around in this hovercraft shooting at rats. Now this was entertainment! I can only imagine that the helicopter version is ten times better...
  • This reminds me of the situation on the Galapagos islands.

    Goats had been introduced back when the first sailors had arrived. Now they are upsetting the balance of the ecosystem and must be erradicated. Unfortunatly, due to the delicate nature of the ecosystem, and the general lack of navigability around the island, goat removal options are few.

    One is to use $20,000 dollar goat attack dogs (I swear on my karma I'm not making this up) with self-destruct collars (if they attack anything besides goats)

    The other is called the judas goat program. One goat is captured, his horns painted and a tracking device attached, then let lose. In a few days he will find another goat herd, at which time a helicopter with hunters (goat snipers, again I'm not making this up) flys over the herd, and methodicaly pick off each goat except the judas goat.
    • You left off the rest of the story.... they paid the Iscariot goat 30 bucks for his troubles, and he tried to turn it down. But they said take it, and he did. Then guilt came to him, and his goat heart was heavy, and he went off and hanged himself. (and became goat jerky)
  • So let me see if I understand their thought processes here:

    1) We have a fragile ecosystem that is being decimated by interloping humans^H^H^H^H^H^H^Hrats.

    2) This is a protected environment for rare seabirds.

    3) The very first ecological disaster that led to the banning of a pesticide was due to it's negative effect on the indiginous bird population (DDT).

    Conclusion: we should drop a ton of poison pellets in this National Park in order to save the birds.

    And I thought some of Microsoft's arguments in their anti-trust case were wacky...

  • C'mon, how many people, upon reading that headline, immediately thought of the "Killswitch" episode of X-files?
  • were decimating the populations

    Decimate, obliterate, or exterminate?

  • Not the type of story I like to see on /. Domesticated rats are intelligent animals that make *great* pets. I understand that these particular animals needed to be killed, but it's a shame, and that shame is not the focus of this story; rather it is the gps. Technology is not more important than life--any life.

  • I actualy live in Oxnard, and my father is a farmer. My family has known the folks at Aspen as long as I can remeber.
    I am also pretty familiar with GPS's and Helicopters.

    one more thing I am familiar with; Anacapa Island, and I just can't see how GPS would help with this job. Anacapa is little more than a rock that juts out of the ocean about 14 miles off the coast of California, you can see it from anywhere in ventura county that has a clear view of the ocean.The island is broken up into 3 smaller islands each not much larger than a couple of hundred yards. Any sufficently detailed map should be all you would need to precisley dump your poison.
  • The Park service could have made some money off this whole thing. Just call Mark Burnett and let him hold the next edition of survivor on the island. Then just them eat the rats, and plus you can charge the contestants a campground fee.

The unfacts, did we have them, are too imprecisely few to warrant our certitude.