Wednesday, October 7

On the front lines of humanity’s high-tech, global war on rats

I don't like rats. Seriously. It might be cultural or it could be historical due to their reputation of spreading disease but I'm not exactly a rat lover. Even though I loved watching ratatouille. And the fact that Ganesh's personal animal is a rat. Go figure. 

Heck I hate pigeons as well and call them flying rats. They are very destructive indeed. They gnawed through many books we had in bhopal. Tragic. And clothes and and and. Never ending battle against these buggers. 

Reminds me of the problem I started to face when I was at the previous bank. We moved into a new building and suddenly started to find, after some time, a spate of network outages. Weird. Networks don't go down that often. So we dug (no pun intended) into it. 

People started to eat too much at their desks and would drop food and crumbs. They would also store food stuff in their cupboards and desks. This would attract rats inside the building who loved this cornucopia. 

So we had to get rat catchers in. Change behaviour. Removed all the dustbins. Ask the cleaners to hoover every night. Not fun. 

Still quite an interesting story about rats. Also talks about Galapagos :) 



On the front lines of humanity’s high-tech, global war on rats
(via Instapaper)

Grate Hero Rats

Enemy at the Grates

On the front lines of humanity’s high-tech, global war on rats

By Josh Dzieza

Last May, a member of Alberta’s rat patrol paid a visit to a farm on the outskirts of Sibbald, a small town near the Saskatchewan border. He found holes bored into the foundation of a grain silo and feces littering the trash pit: telltale signs of a rat infestation, probably 100 strong. He scattered aquamarine pellets of poison, then returned with seven pest control officers, including Phil Merrill, head of the province’s rat patrol. Using a crane, they hoisted the granary off its foundation, watching for anything scurrying out, one officer standing ready with a shotgun. All the rats were dead. The patrol stomped on the burrows, then burned the silo for good measure. It was a bit of a disappointment, Merrill said. A few years earlier, they’d gunned down 157 rats at a single farm.

Merrill was swigging chocolate milk and recounting stories of past infestations as we drove toward the control zone, a sparsely populated buffer between Alberta, the largest inhabited rat-free region on Earth, and the rest of the infested planet. There was the rat in an Air Canada cockpit (chased down the tarmac, killed) and the infestation at the dump (poisoned, monitored with night-vision cameras to be sure). Keeping the province rat-free requires constant vigilance, and every spring and fall, Merrill and his team patrol the zone.

All members of the genus Rattus are banned from the province, but Alberta is especially alert for one species: the brown rat, also known as the wharf rat, sewer rat, and Norway rat. That last one is a bit of a misnomer: the species traces its origins to northern China and reached Europe only in the 18th century, where it scurried aboard ships and made landfall in North America around the time of the American Revolution. Fast, strong, and highly adaptable, it’s now present just about anywhere humans live or visit.

Burning down the farm

A structure in Alberta suspected of rat infestation and subsequently burned down. Image courtesy of Phil Merrill

Alberta had the good luck of being one of the last places rats invaded, and in 1950, the government decided to keep them out rather than try to control them once they gained a foothold. The first and most important step was to teach Albertans — some of whom had never seen rats before — to fear and hate them. Preserved rat corpses were exhibited at schools and fairs, and the government printed World War II-style posters depicting a province besieged by rodent hordes. The message was clear: if the rats were to be kept out, all citizens had to do their part — fortifying their farms, reporting incursions, and if need be, taking up arms.

The campaign has been largely successful, and half a century on, Albertans remain vigilant. Merrill’s rat patrol has a hotline, 310-RATS, where people can report possible sightings. The hotline gets hundreds of calls a year, mostly false alarms — misidentified muskrats or pocket gophers. When Albertans do spot a rat, they often act quickly, beating it to death with bats or shovels before calling it in. They even report their neighbors for keeping pet rats, or fancy rats, as exterminators call them. Rats are rats, and Alberta’s government gives them no quarter. Sometimes the owners have their rats flown out of the province, but generally, Merrill said, “We take care of them.”

Alberta’s landscape makes eradication feasible. It’s sparsely populated, and its sprawling farms and small towns provide few structures where rats can shelter from the harsh winters. The 250,000-square-mile province is protected by the Rocky Mountains in the west, frigid forests to the north, and badlands to the south. Accordingly, the government concentrates its efforts on a 400-mile-long strip on the eastern border with Saskatchewan.

As the nine members of the patrol travel through the control zone, they check every building that might harbor a rat. They examine foundations for signs of gnawing, ask farmers if they’ve seen anything suspicious, and hand out buckets of poison pellets. Merrill, an energetic and affable 64-year-old who’s worked pest control since 1971, says that the key to catching a rat is to think like a rat: you want a granary, preferably an old wooden one; you want bales of barley or something with a bit of protein to snack on; and you want water. Each time Merrill clears a site, he marks it on a GPS map with a skull and crossbones.

We pulled up to a farmhouse, and Merrill knocked on the door. “Rat patrol here, come to see if you’re harboring any rats,” he called out. A gangly, weathered man in his 60s invited Merrill in, pulled out a chair, and the two swapped local rat gossip.

They discussed a dilapidated grain house just over the border in Saskatchewan. As a rule, rats stick close to home, rarely traveling more than a few hundred feet from their nest, but when things get too crowded, some venture out, running through the surrounding fields; most die, but a few find a new building and start to breed. Merrill reckoned there were hundreds of rats in the grain house, and the colony was sending rats out in a 5-mile radius. With the cooperation of the other province’s pest control officer, he wanted to poison it, maybe raze it completely. “We’ve got to fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here,” he told me.

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