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Dual threat facing endangered penguins

Just weeks after tsunami waves decimated albatross populations and less than a year after the BP oil spill affected wildlife in the Gulf, yet another disaster is jeopardizing endangered penguin populations.

The recent disaster, a little publicized crash deep in the South Atlantic area on March 16, is threatening half of the world’s population of Northern Rockhopper Penguins, according to the New York Times.

A freighter ran aground off Nightingale Island and spilled tons of oil, which has since left a ring of crude oil surrounding the archipelago.

The island is part of the Tristan da Cunha, a remote group of volcanic islands where 99 percent of all Northern Rockhopper Penguins breed.

Not only have 20,000 of these penguins already had their feathers coated with black, sticky oil, but another threat from the ship run aground may prove even more dangerous than the oil itself: rats.

The freighter was carrying 66,000 tons of soybeans and most likely had stowaway rats. Since the inhabited archipelago is currently rodent-free, an introduction of rats could devastate the ecosystem and prove lethal to the endangered penguins.

Research biologist Richard Cuthbert told the New York Times that rodents might wash ashore and eat the chicks and eggs of native seabirds, ultimately jeopardizing the population of Northern Rockhopper Penguins.

Even though no humans were injured during the crash, this is yet another example of the dangers natural and man-made disasters pose to wildlife and birds.

Timothy Martinez Jr. is a writer and freelance journalist. His work has been published in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Remapping Debate in New York City and other publications. He’s been a bird lover since he was young and currently lives in New Orleans, L.A.