The best known “land” animal on Ascension Island is the famous green turtles. I have written a separate review on these very special creatures Ascension’s Green Turtles.
Given its remoteness, there are and have been very few species of land animal on Ascension Island. Go look for them – your own Ascension Island Safari!
Before Ascension Island was colonised by Europeans in the 19th century the land crab, Johngarthia lagostoma, was the only large land animal on the island. This crab lives atop Green Mountain and amazingly makes its way to the coast every year to reproduce and lay its eggs on the beaches. The crabs, while largely nocturnal, can be seen on cooler and damper days. At other times they stay hidden in their holes which can be up to 1 metre deep. I came across a few on Cronk’s Path and Elliot’s Pass walks on Green Mountain.
This land crab only lives on Ascension Island and three other islands in the South Atlantic with the majority of the yellow ones being on Ascension Island. The current population is much smaller than it used to be, to the extent that the species may become endangered soon.
Donkeys were brought to Ascension Island in around 1815 and became feral/wild shortly thereafter. They were used as beasts of burden and primarily to move water down from Green Mountain to Georgetown.
Unintended consequences arose when the donkeys, being herbivores, began eating and almost decimated the already sparse and endemic vegetation on the Island. Added to this they have been blamed for the spread Mexican Thorn as they fed on the seedpods and spread the seeds in their droppings.
Today donkeys are most common on the drier parts of the island below Two Boats and around Georgetown. You will have no problem finding them. The low fences you see around town are not to deter thieves or unwanted human guests but rather to stop donkeys entering people’s private properties. See my St Mary’s Anglican Church, Georgetown review for a quaint and amusing reference to the donkeys.
A number of attempts have been made to cull the donkeys but these have and continue to be typically meet with opposition from local people including many who attribute a certain sacredness to the donkeys – recalling their links to Jesus.
Sheep and goats
Sheep and goats were initially brought to the Island to provide passing ships with meat. While there are still lots of sheep – all feral now and on Green Mountain – there are no goats left on the Island. I understand the goats where used for target practice by the Army in the 1940s.
Like sheep and goats, cows were introduced to provide meat and dairy produce. As I have indicated elsewhere in other reviews cows were actually farmed by the Marines but a dictate from Mrs Thatcher in London and rules from the European Union (which Ascension Island, like many places, seem to apply at their own discretion) put an end to farming on Ascension. Mrs T decreed that the Marine farm be privatised (overlooking the crucial fact that there were no private citizens on the Island to run it) and the European Union put an end to the sale of unpasteurised milk. The cows were let loose and became feral. While cow pats have been sighted in recent years cows have not been seen for some time. I didn’t see either.
Rats and Cats
Hardly surprising that one of the first animals to make their way to Ascension Island was the rat which came as stowaways on ships in the 1700s. The first rats are thought to have scampered ashore from the wreck of Dampier’s Roebuck which sunk on the Island’s western shore in 1701. Rats had a devastating impact on the Island’s ground nesting birds and have been credited with the extinction of a small flightless rail, which was common on the Island in the 1600’s.
Even more catastrophic to the Island’s birds was the introduction of the domestic cat shortly after 1815. Cats were brought in to catch the rats – alas, they preferred the islands birds. Numerous attempts were made to rid the island of cats over the next two hundred years with success not occurring until 2002. The bird population has greatly recovered since then.
Rabbits have also made it to Ascension Island – not a lot to say about them!