A rat native to Chile has been found in the wild leading the environmental watchdog to assess the status of the possibly invasive species on the islands.
In a statement on Sunday, the Environment and Resources Authority said that it is currently assessing the status of the degu in Malta.
On Saturday, the Times of Malta reported that the rat native of the South American country has been spotted in Buskett.
ERA explained that a rapid response process has been set up to assess the best way to control the spread of this invasive alien species in collaboration with other entities. This is being done in line with the recently adopted National Strategy for Preventing and Mitigating the Impact of Invasive Alien Species in the Maltese islands.
The degu, Octodon degu, also known as the Chilean Rat or Common Degu, is a rodent native to Chile (South America) and is related to the chinchilla and the guinea pigs. It was introduced in Malta as part of the pet trade and was either deliberately released into the wild or escaped from confinement.
The environmental watchdog is considering a precautionary approach, saying that it noted that some experts indicate that it might not survive the summer dry and hot climate of Malta. The approach takes into account the humid valleys and areas with perennial springs which may provide a refuge for the degu during the summer months.
Other invasive species
The environmental watchdog also mentioned other species which were previously considered as ‘difficult to establish themselves in Malta’ and have subsequently become an invasive alien species in a number of areas in Malta and Gozo.
These include the Levantine Frog (il-qorru; iż-żrinġ l-għarib), the Red-Eared Slider (il-fekruna tal-ilma ħelu) and different Freshwater Crayfish (iċ-ċkala tal-ilma ħelu). These species are either escapes from the pet trade or were deliberately released or discarded into the environment.
The Environment and Resources Authority shall also be addressing these issues through further awareness processes and discussions with stakeholders. This is particularly relevant in relation to the National Codes of Good Practice on Invasive Alien Species, which addresses such matter and also include DOs and DON’Ts in relation to pets. The Authority is also concluding the Action Plan addressing Escape from Confinement of Invasive Alien Species (IAS), which was also subject to earlier public consultation earlier this year and which will be adopted in the coming weeks.
Pets should never be deliberately released or abandoned into the environment. While many do not survive others may become invasive at the expense of local flora and fauna. This leads to a considerable environmental and economic issues, with potential impacts to nature and biodiversity as well as agriculture and fisheries, amongst other sectors.
Invasive Alien Species (IAS) are animals and plants that are introduced accidentally or deliberately into a natural environment where they are not normally found, with serious negative consequences for their new environment. They represent a major threat to native plants and animals in Europe, causing damage worth billions of Euros to the European economy every year.