House mice introduced on to Gough Island in the South Atlantic have been filmed attacking adult albatrosses for the first time, the RSPB said.

The rodents, accidentally introduced to the remote island by sailors in the 19th century, are known to eat seabird eggs and chicks - but this is the first time they have been seen attacking adult albatrosses.

Without action to protect the seabird nesting colonies on the UK overseas territory, the critically endangered Tristan albatross could become extinct, the RSPB warned.


The wildlife charity and partners have plans to implement a £9 million mice eradication scheme to help the Tristan albatross and other seabird species on the World Heritage Site island.

Since arriving in the remote spot, the mice have learned to exploit the island's once abundant birds, eating alive the eggs and chicks of up to 19 different species and attacking chicks up to 300 times their own weight, the RSPB said.


A study last year found that predation by mice is responsible for over two million fewer seabird chicks and eggs on the island each year.

Footage based near nests has revealed the rodents in groups of up to nine attack the birds, and in the case of chicks eat them alive.

These kind of attacks on adult albatrosses, the world's biggest bird by wingspan, have only previously been witnessed on one other island.


Chris Jones, senior Gough field assistant, said: "We have known for more than a decade that the mice on Gough Island attack and kill seabird chicks.

"While this is already of great concern, attacks on adults, which can produce dozens of chicks in their lifetime, could be devastating for the populations' chances of survival, survival of these long-lived seabirds.

"It's a terrible development and these gentle giants could now be lost even more rapidly than we first predicted."


The conservationists describe Gough Island as one of the most important seabird colonies in the world, hosting more than 10 million birds, with 24 species nesting on the island, 22 of which are seabirds.

It is home to 99% of the world's critically endangered Tristan albatross and Atlantic petrel populations, whose chicks are particularly vulnerable to being eaten by mice, because they are left alone in the winter.

Just 2,000 Tristan albatross pairs now remain, the RSPB said.

The Gough Restoration Plan by the RSPB and Tristan da Cunha Government, supported by the UK Government, together with international partners including Island Conservation from the US, the South African Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, BirdLife South Africa and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, aims to eradicate the mice in 2020.

A further £3 million is still needed to fully fund the project, the conservationists say.