I love all animals and, with the exception of spiders, all living creatures. They all have their places on this planet we share. I realize that some readers feel differently and I do understand, especially when it comes to destructive rodents. My birdfeeders are used by squirrels and chipmunks and I love sharing with them, but some of my neighbors disagree. I sometimes put out lettuce or a carrot for the occasional rabbit that wanders onto my front porch, too. I can’t help myself!
Recently, I was shocked to learn that a pair of rats left to breed without predators such as humans or raptors, will in three years increase to 3.5 million rats. That is not a typo! Three and one-half million rats can descend from one Mommy and Daddy Rat in three years. That is a big extended family!
As a person who started out on a farm on Crooked Creek, I was also surprised by another statistic: One rat will annually cause $28.50 of farm damage per crop acre. After these facts from the Raptor Rehabilitation of KY, Inc. it is hard for me to argue in favor of these little creatures.
It is important to know though, that there are right and wrong ways to attempt rodent control. Raptors are nature’s way to handle the problem, which means if you poison rodents you are indirectly poisoning hawks, owls and eagles. Quick kill traps are safer as well as more humane than other types of traps.
Rats have always been a significant problem in big cities and a recent New York Times article (by Winnie Hu) sounds the alarm for a serious worsening of infestations. Besides New York City (where “Pizza Rat” was a social media hit last year), other cities cited in the article include Seattle, Chicago (the “rat capital”), Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Washington (I don’t think they included politicians in their count). The statistics varied, but in some cities, the rat population has grown by over 100%.
One of the reasons given for such increases includes building booms (called “gentrification”), which one scientist likened to stepping on an ant hill. It could be that rats are simply more visible because they are being released by builders digging into their burrows.
More and more people are coming to cities such as NYC both as residents and as tourists, leading to more and more waste from apartments, hotels, and restaurants. This garbage sits in plastic bags lining the streets overnight and providing a banquet for rats.
It seems there is no one answer to the infestation of rats in cities. Each municipality is approaching this problem with everything from rodent birth control to education of residents and improved reporting systems. It will be interesting to observe the effects of milder winters due to climate change on this situation.
Meanwhile, rodents are not only a destructive nuisance and a scourge on the quality of life, but also a serious health risk. A bacterial infection spread by rat urine, leptospirosis, can be lethal.
“I live in New York, and the only live animals you see are cockroaches, rats and pigeons, which I admire immensely. When I see an animal that thrives in the garbage, I feel relief; in our urban environment, other animals are dying out.” Isabella Rossellini