Easter Island Wildlife
There are not much variety of Easter Island animals due to its extreme isolation. There is no native mammal in its terrestrial wildlife. There are specimens of Maori rats (Rattus exulans) that were introduced by the first Polynesian settlers and only two species of reptiles: a Gekkonidae (Lepidodactylus lugubris) locally known as moko uru-uru kau and a lizard (Cryptoblepharus poecilopleurus paschalis) known as moko uri uri. There are no known species of snakes on the island.
Among the domestic animals which were introduced to the island by missionaries in the 19th century are sheep and goats. Notably, the horse population is enormous (approximately 6,000 specimens) and even outnumbers people. The horses actually roam free around the island.
Some native seabirds stand out, like the frigatebirds or Makohe (Fregata minor), the masked booby (Sula dactylatra), and the Red-tailed Tropicbird or Tavake (Phaeton rubricauda) which can be seen in large groups in the Rano Raraku volcano emitting a characteristic squeal.
There are two types of seagulls (Sterna lunata) and (Sterna fuscata), known locally as Manutara, which tend to nest in the nearby motus or islets and about which the ancient Tangata Manu or “Bird Man” cult and ceremony used to be based.
Within the introduced species are the sparrow, finch, Chilean Tinamou and patridge. There are also many chimango caracaras, a bird of prey of the hawk family, which were brought in to control the rodent population but have reproduced considerably due to lack of predators.
The marine wildlife is diverse and abundant. 167 species have been cataloged, of which almost 30% are endemic to the island. It’s one of the highest endemism levels for an oceanic island worldwide, by having species that are unique in the world.
The ura or lobster and the anglerfish standout. Among the fish are the Nanue, poopó, yellowtail fish, mahi-mahi and tuna or kahi, which is a fundamental element of the islanders’ diet.
From time to time, Honu or Green sea turtles and hawksbill sea turtles appear in Hanga Roa. The fishermen also tend to run into various types of sharks, but an attack has never been reported.
Recently, the Oceana organization made a video showing some of the species that live in the waters surrounding Easter Island.
According to the studies conducted by the organization, the island has suffered a worrying decrease in fish over the last few years, mostly due to overfishing. This shortage affects not only how the island’s marine ecosystem functions, but also the people of Rapa Nui whose economy and culture depend on these resources.
Oceana proposes the creation of a marine reserve in Hanga Roa Bay, where fishing would be regulated. If accepted by the islanders, well preserved coral reefs would greatly benefit and facilitate the recovery of local species.