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What is it about Rats?!!

If​ ​the​ ​urban​ ​myth​ ​was​ ​true,​ ​you’d​ ​never​ ​be  farther​ ​than​ ​two​ ​metres​ ​from​ ​the​ ​nearest​ ​rat​ ​in  London.​  ​But​ ​as​ ​far​ ​as​ ​neighbours​ ​go,​ ​wild​ ​rats  keep​ ​to​ ​themselves.​  ​And​ ​why​ ​shouldn’t​ ​they?  We,​ ​humans,​ ​are​ ​their​ ​commensal​ ​enemy. 

Rarely​ ​seen​ ​by​ ​day,​ ​rats​ ​dwell​ ​in​ ​our​ ​cities.​  ​Under​ ​pavements,​ ​in​ ​sewers,​ ​up​ ​on​ ​roof terraces.​  ​Hear​ ​that​ ​scratching​ ​behind​ ​the​ ​wall?​  ​This​ ​shrill​ ​squeaking​ ​-​ ​it​ ​ain’t​ ​birds​ ​on​ ​the  roof…

Rats​ ​are​ ​among​ ​the​ ​most​ ​successful​ ​invasive​ ​non-native​ ​species​ ​in​ ​the​ ​World.​

And​ ​London  is​ ​rat​ ​heaven.

 

The City Rat and…

From​ ​Roman​ ​times,​ ​many​ ​arrived​ ​here​ ​as​ ​stowaways​ ​aboard​ ​ships​ ​docking​ ​along​ ​the Thames.​

​Around​ ​the​ ​18th​ ​century,​ ​brown​ ​rats​ ​moved​ ​to​ ​Britain,​ ​gradually​ ​out-competing  their​ ​smaller​ ​cousins.

​Rats​ ​do​ ​carry​ ​common​ ​pathogens:​ ​C.diff,​ ​E.coli…​  ​About​ ​30% harbour​ ​potentially​ ​fatal​ ​cross-species​ ​viruses.​

But​ ​if​ ​rats​ ​were​ ​the​ ​agent​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Black​ ​Death, it​ ​was​ ​likely​ ​human​ ​ignorance​ of basic hygiene principles ​that​ ​propagated​ ​the​ ​pandemics​ ​that​ ​decimated​ ​one-third​ ​of  medieval​ ​Europeans.

After​ ​centuries​ ​of​ ​misconceptions,​ ​fear​ ​of​ ​rats​ ​as​ ​disease​ ​carriers​ ​still​ ​populates​ ​our collective​ ​consciousness.​  

 

What is the number of rats in the UK?

The​ ​estimates​ ​of​ ​UK​ ​rat​ ​population​ ​vary​ ​wildly​ ​between​ ​10.5​ ​million​ ​based​ ​on​ ​academic research,​ ​or​ ​80​ ​million…​ ​according​ ​to​ ​the​ ​Daily​ ​Mail!

Experts​ ​agree​ ​on​ ​one​ ​thing.​  ​Rats’​ ​lives​ ​mirror​ ​those​ ​of​ ​humans.​  ​Wherever​ ​we​ ​settle,​ ​they  follow​ ​us​ ​like​ ​the​ ​legendary​ ​Piper.​  ​Everywhere​ ​they​ ​find​ ​sustenance,​ ​rats​ ​associate​ ​with​ ​our  activities.

The​ ​streetwise​ ​rats​ ​may​ ​total​ ​3-4​ ​million​ ​individuals​ ​in​ ​a​ ​city​ ​like​ ​London.​  ​Hard​ ​to​ ​tell.​  ​Most  evidence​ ​is​ ​anecdotal.​

But​ ​we​ ​have​ ​much​ ​in​ ​common…

 

Of Rats and Men

Like​ ​us,​ ​rats​ ​are​ ​omnivores.​  ​Their​ ​feeding​ ​behaviour​ ​is​ ​predictable,​ ​and​ ​they​ ​make provisions​ ​for​ ​the​ ​future.

Our​ ​relationship​ ​is​ ​symbiotic.​  ​Rats​ ​thrive​ ​on​ ​the​ ​perks​ ​afforded​ ​by​ ​our​ ​proximity:​ ​plenty​ ​of  food,​ ​water​ ​and​ ​free​ ​shelter.​

They​ ​love​ ​what​ ​we​ ​love.​  ​And​ ​we​ ​are​ ​ever​ ​so​ ​wasteful.

Our  refuse​ ​is​ ​their​ ​salvation,​ ​their​ ​survival.

For​ ​this​ ​reason,​ ​rats​ ​live​ ​among​ ​us.​  Their​ ​often-brazen​ ​sorties​ ​to​ ​ransack​ ​London’s​ ​trendy  kitchens​ ​make​ ​the​ ​stuff​ ​of​ ​bad​ ​hotel​ ​reviews.

​Their​ ​incidental​ ​presence​ ​is​ ​an​ ​irritation.​

​But the​ ​rat​ ​is​ ​naturally​ ​wary.​  ​And​ ​rarely​ ​noticeable.

 

Rat Empire Underground

Whenever​ ​rubbish​ ​collections​ ​go​ ​on​ ​strike,​ ​however,​ ​our​ ​city​ ​neighbours​ ​have​ ​a​ ​field​ ​day.

For​ ​the​ ​urban​ ​rodent,​ ​it’s​ ​all​ ​about​ ​supply​ ​and​ ​growing​ ​demand.​  ​Our​ ​carelessness​ ​means they​ ​are​ ​winning.

If​ ​city-dwellers​ ​took​ ​better​ ​care​ ​of​ ​their​ ​environment,​ ​rats​ ​wouldn’t​ ​thrive.

​With​ ​enough​ ​junk  at​ ​their​ ​disposal,​ ​rats​ ​are​ ​free​ ​to​ ​forage.​  ​And​ ​with​ ​year-round​ ​breeding​ ​season,​ ​a​ ​well-fed pair​ ​can​ ​sprout​ ​generations​ ​at​ ​an​ ​alarming​ ​rate.

The​ ​rat​ ​is​ ​a​ ​gastronome,​ ​an​ ​opportunist,​ ​a​ ​“bon​ ​vivant”.

​And​ ​a​ ​well-fed​ ​individual​ ​is​ ​also​ ​a happy​ ​individual.

​Any​ ​sustained​ ​strike​ ​of​ ​Waste​ ​and​ ​Recycling​ ​services,​ ​and​ ​there​ ​you​ ​are… with​ ​a​ ​growing​ ​colony​ ​on​ ​your​ ​streets.​  ​For​ ​that​ ​very​ ​reason,​ ​Birmingham​ ​became​ ​the centre​ ​of​ ​rat​ ​kingdom​ ​recently…

 

Urban Rats

In​ ​cities,​ ​rats​ ​affect​ ​the​ ​poor​ ​more​ ​than​ ​the​ ​rich.

​Through​ ​their​ ​constant​ ​gnawing,​ ​they cause​ ​enormous​ ​structural​ ​damages,​ ​undermining​ ​buildings.  ​And​ ​insurances​ ​estimate​ ​rats are​ ​responsible​ ​for​ ​25%​ ​of​ ​electrical​ ​fires.

Less​ ​than​ ​0.5%​ ​of​ ​dwellings​ ​have​ ​rats.​  ​The​ ​critters​ ​prefer​ ​to​ ​roam​ ​shops,​ ​factories​ ​and  warehouses,​ ​where​ ​they​ ​find​ ​more​ ​opportunities.

But​ ​they​ ​will​ ​explore​ ​wherever​ ​possible,​ ​often​ ​through​ ​drainage​ ​systems.​

Lack​ ​of management​ ​and​ ​cooperation​ ​between​ ​environmental​ ​agencies​ ​often​ ​mean​ ​colony densities​ ​can​ ​increase​ ​in​ ​already​ ​stressed​ ​areas,​ ​and​ ​enhance​ ​the​ ​risk​ ​to​ ​public​ ​health.

Since​ ​2012,​ ​Olympic​ ​building​ ​construction​ ​and​ ​rising​ ​number​ ​of​ ​empty​ ​properties​ ​have  compounded​ ​the​ ​problem.

 

Rat Control

Many​ ​cities​ ​devote​ ​manpower​ ​and​ ​money​ ​to​ ​keeping​ ​rats​ ​under​ ​control.

Worldwide,​ ​rats​ ​deplete​ ​one-fifth​ ​of​ ​food​ ​supplies​ ​every​ ​year.​  ​So,​ ​curbing​ ​rat  overpopulation​ ​could​ ​save​ ​enough​ ​crop​ ​products​ ​to​ ​feed​ ​millions.

Urban​ ​situations​ ​remain​ ​largely​ ​unresearched.​  ​What​ ​we​ ​know​ ​is​ ​that​ ​rat​ ​populations​ ​can​ ​be  controlled,​ ​even​ ​reduced.​

But​ ​rats​ ​can’t​ ​be​ ​entirely​ ​eliminated.

Across​ ​the​ ​Channel,​ ​the​ ​rat​ ​population​ ​in​ ​Paris​ ​outnumbers​ ​that​ ​of​ ​human​ ​dwellers.​  ​There’s  almost​ ​2​ ​rats​ ​for​ ​every​ ​Parisian!​

​The​ ​municipality​ ​is​ ​pouring​ ​1.5​ ​million​ ​euros​ ​into​ ​the problem,​ ​with​ ​strategic​ ​cleaning,​ ​public​ ​campaigns​ ​and​ ​toxic​ ​baits.

 

Rat-specting the Ecosystem

Humans​ ​have​ ​a​ ​talent​ ​for​ ​exterminating​ ​other​ ​species…​ ​and​ ​themselves.​

But​ ​in​ ​so​ ​doing, they​ ​often​ ​damage​ ​the​ ​environment.​

Where​ ​rodenticides​ ​have​ ​failed​ ​to​ ​control​ ​numbers because​ ​rats​ ​develop​ ​an​ ​immunity,​ ​a​ ​humane​ ​solution​ ​exists​ ​that​ ​is​ ​neither​ ​lethal​ ​nor​ ​toxic –​ ​a​ ​rat​ ​contraceptive,​ ​already​ ​used​ ​in​ ​New​ ​York.

Despite​ ​the​ ​bad​ ​rep,​ ​the​ ​rat​ ​remains​ ​a​ ​fascinating​ ​animal:​ ​intelligent,​ ​and​ ​(yes!)​ ​well  groomed.​  They​ ​learn​ ​and​ ​adapt​ ​to​ ​circumstances.

Rats​ ​are​ ​the​ ​marmite​ ​of​ ​the​ ​animalkind​ ​-​ ​either​ ​reminding​ ​you​ ​of​ ​loveable​ ​cartoon  characters,​ ​or​ ​making​ ​your​ ​skin​ ​crawl​ ​at​ ​the​ ​very​ ​idea.​  ​You​ ​either​ ​have​ ​sympathy​ ​for​ ​the  little​ ​devils…​ ​or​ ​you​ ​don’t.

But​ ​there’s​ ​no​ ​place​ ​for​ ​rats​ ​in​ ​our​ ​multicultural​ ​tolerant​ ​society:​ “​It’s​ ​a​ ​dead-end​ ​job.​  ​First, you’re​ ​competing​ ​with​ ​pigeons…​ ​then​ ​hordes​ ​of​ ​Pokémons​ ​turning​ ​youths​ ​into​ ​smartphone zombies​ ​in​ ​our​ ​capitals.”

Loathed​ ​though​ ​they​ ​may​ ​be,​ ​their​ ​urban​ ​population​ ​remains​ ​small​ ​and​ ​stable…

Somewhere​ ​near​ ​you…​ ​rats​ ​are​ ​usefully​ ​burrowing​ ​into​ ​the​ ​silt​ ​of​ ​sewers,​ ​which​ ​weakens  and​ ​unclogs​ ​it.​

​From​ ​fast-food​ ​hotspots​ ​to​ ​fly-tipping,​ ​and​ ​reduced​ ​bin​ ​collections,​ ​rats feast​ ​on​ ​our​ ​leftovers,​ ​grazing​ ​on​ ​tonnes​ ​of​ ​agri-food​ ​waste…​ ​and​ ​helping​ ​us​ ​manage​ ​it​ ​in  their​ ​own​ ​way.

And​ ​therein​ ​lies​ ​the​ ​secret​ ​of​ ​their​ ​neighbourliness.  ​They​ ​care​ ​for​ ​what​ ​we​ ​don’t.

One​ ​thing’s​ ​for​ ​sure,​ ​the​ ​rat​ ​is​ ​here​ ​to​ ​stay.