In the 1960’s, some climbers who visited Ball’s Pyramid reported that they had seen fresh corpses of the insects on the rocky island. A few more dead insects were discovered by subsequent expeditions, but nobody could find a living specimen of the nocturnal insect.
It wasn’t until 2001, when two Australian scientists discovered a deposit of large insect droppings under a single shrub 100 m (330’) above the sea. The duo then returned after dark with a local ranger, assuming that the insects probably lived under this shrub. Indeed, under a pile of plant debris beneath the shrub, the team discovered 24 specimens of the enormous insect thriving in such an unlikely barren chunk of rock far away from their home land. Nobody knew how the flightless stick insects managed to get there in the first place.
Everybody knew, though, that it was the last breeding population of the insects, and they had to be protected. After rigorous studies, government officials granted the permission to retrieve two breeding pairs from the rocks to be bred in captivity for future reintroduction programs. But this effort was not without challenges, as the first breeding pair immediately died within two weeks.
The other pair, nicknamed “Adam” and “Eve,” were taken to the Melbourne zoo where they successfully laid eggs under the watch of Patrick Honan. When Eve got very sick, Patrick instinctively fed her a mixture containing calcium and nectar, nursing her back to full health. 30 of her eggs were found to be fertile, and the offsprings eventually became the foundation of the zoo’s breeding program. As of April 2012, the zoo’s population quickly soared to 1,000 adult insects and 20,000 eggs.
This story, however, is just the beginning. The rats, which caused the mass extinction to happen in the first place, are still thriving on the island. To successfully return the insects to their homeland, an extensive eradication program is necessary. In addition, not every resident of the island is ready to welcome back their six-legged neighbors who have been absent from the island for more than half a century, prompting the Melbourne Museum to launch a campaign to promote the species. At the very least, the breeding program seemed to succeed and it’s only a matter of time before the insects are reintroduced to the island.
Original findings published in NPR.
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