Unusually heavy rains this summer are partly to blame
for rats pouring out of the sewers in droves all over the country, and the nasty vermin are relocating to some of the most pristine
neighborhoods. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Joyce
Kryszak explains what caused the rat invasion and
what’s being done to evict them:
Unusually heavy rains this summer are partly to blame for rats pouring out of the sewers
in droves all over the country. And the nasty vermin are relocating to some of the most
pristine neighborhoods. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Joyce Kryszak explains what
caused the rat invasion and what’s being done to evict them:
Piercing blue autumn skies and billowing white clouds drift across the chimneys of this modest,
but perfectly manicured suburb. There aren’t even many leaves crunching under foot. Town workers
have already come and vacuumed them all away. But there’s a nasty little secret scurrying under
the porches and behind the garden sheds in this Western New York town. County Sanitation Chief
Peter Tripi takes us for a peek.
“Can you see the teeth marks here? That’s actually rat gnaw marks. And there’s the garbage bag.
And that’s what we found when we went to this property.”
Now, you might be thinking that we trudged through derelict grass and scattered debris to find
these rat clues. Nope. This is a gorgeous, manicured yard – with not a blade of grass out of
place. But Tripi says rats aren’t choosy.
“You would never think by looking side to side that there would be a rat problem in this yard.
Doesn’t matter what neighborhood you live in, or how much money you’ve got. There’s no difference.
They just like your food.”
And you’d be surprised where rats can find food. A garbage can left even briefly uncovered, a
neglected bird feeder, uhhh… dog feces… and even a compost pile.
“Absolutely. This is a rat condo. It’s a grass-clipping compost pile that basically housed rats
to go a hundred yard radius all the way around to the different houses.”
Tripi says rats had to get creative with their housing. A summer of extremely heavy rains drove
the out of the sewers and into some previously rat-free neighborhoods. And with the West Nile
virus killing off millions of birds, the rats have less competition for the food they’re finding
above ground. The consequence is a virtual rat infestation all the way from New York and Illinois
to Virginia, Michigan and L.A. In Kenmore, there have been four thousand rat complaints – nearly
double last year.
(Sound of garbage truck)
Of course, none of this is news to the garbage collectors. They see the problem up close and
personal. Twenty-year veteran Louie Tadaro says this past summer is the worst he’s ever seen.
“Across the street there’s an alleyway and there had to be like ten of them in there, And we
started chasing them with garbage cans trying to kill them, but we couldn’t. By the time we
got there they just split.”
The problem is, they don’t split for long. Vector Control Chief Tripi says now that the rats
have relocated from the sewers to upscale accommodations, they kind of like it.
“And what that means is that they want to live with us. They want to be near our garbage and
our bird feeders. The problem with that is that rats carry diseases.”
We all know about stuff like typhus and the bubonic plague. But there are emerging diseases,
such as a pet-killer called Leptospiroris. It’s killing dogs all across the country. Tripi
says they need to get rid of the rats before the disease starts spreading to humans. So, his
team is taking the rats on, one yard at a time.
Tripi and his Vector control team set rat traps, they fill bait boxes with poison, and – when
they have to – they issue citations to residents who don’t heed the town’s new “rat control rules.” Covered garbage cans only. Clear away all brush. Clean up scattered bird seed and dog feces. Slowly, the rules seem to be working.
(sound of Tripi looking into rat trap)
Still Tripi says it’s mostly educational warfare. And he says now – heading into winter – is the
best time to nip the problem. If the rats get cozy, not only will they stay, they will multiply.
Fully nourished, one adult rat can breed up to sixty baby rats a year.
“The adult rat can live on a little bit of food, but he can’t procreate unless he has a lot of
food source. And they can’t live through the winter unless they’re warm and fattened up.”
So now is the time to – quite literally – put a lid on it. Keep those garbage cans covered, unless
you want some uninvited furry guests this winter, and many, many more come spring.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Joyce Kryszak.