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Thread: Boom Time for Rats

  1. #1

    Default Boom Time for Rats

    August 7, 2003

    A Detested Emblem of Decay Is Scurrying Back. Ah, Rats!


    New York rats? A suggestion: Ninja cats.

    Even for New York City, it was a bizarre specter: a firehouse closed because it had been taken over by rats.

    They had invaded the firefighters' kitchen and lounge and the chief's office, and seemed only to grow in number and boldness, despite copious use of rat poison. On Tuesday, the city temporarily relocated the firefighters and ordered that the house be gutted and rebuilt.

    But many residents, exterminators and politicians believe that the infested firehouse in Jamaica, Queens, is only part of a much larger citywide rat problem.

    The number of rat complaints received by the city has sharply increased lately. And city officials and exterminators say a combination of circumstances — from an underfinanced government abatement program to reduced recycling pickups to heavy rainfall — seem to have created a boom time for rats in the city.

    If, as these people say, the New York rat problem has returned, city health officials say it is as much an image problem as an infestation problem. That scurrying symbol of urban decay, akin to the mugger, the squeegee man or curbside piles of trash, is one the city and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg does surely not need.

    "The rat infestation is very significant, and Mayor Bloomberg is not taking it as serious as he should be," said Councilwoman Christine Quinn, a Democrat who represents part of Lower Manhattan and the chairwoman of the City Council's Health Committee.

    Councilwoman Quinn said that Mr. Bloomberg "inherited the problem" from Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. "But he still has to address it aggressively," she said.

    She added: "The picture of rats taking over a firehouse on the national-international news takes you right back to 1970's. Once one tourist in Iowa sees it, you have a thousand of them canceling their plane tickets to New York."

    The city has noted a spike in rat infestation complaints lately, with almost 21,000 for the fiscal year 2003, compared with about 16,000 for fiscal year 2002. "Complaints have gone up, but we look at that as a positive thing, because more people know how to contact us now," said James H. Gibson, assistant commissioner for Veterinary and Pest Control Services of the city's Department of Health.

    But Mr. Gibson said that, except for certain blighted sections of the city, the rat problem in New York had improved.

    "It's a difficult thing to assess," he said. "Certain communities in some rare cases have gotten worse, but over all it's gotten better. There are persistent problems in poorer neighborhoods, where more crumbling housing infrastructure provides harborage for rodents. Landlords there often do not properly maintain their properties or provide things like trash cans with covers."

    Mr. Gibson said the number of inspections and exterminations conducted by the department had increased in recent years.

    City spending on rodent control has remained roughly the same over the past three years, he said. For the fiscal year 2003, it was about $13 million.

    "We could use more resources and personnel," he said. "We have a city of 8.1 million people and roughly 30 rodent inspectors. If we had more inspectors, we could be more aggressive."

    Yesterday, the city's fire commissioner, Nicholas Scoppetta, played down claims from the firefighters' union that many firehouses are similarly infested.

    "Rats are a fact of life in New York City," he said.

    Yesterday, Mayor Bloomberg was asked by reporters about the firehouse rat problem after touring the Kaufman Astoria Studio in Queens with Whoopi Goldberg, the star and executive producer of a new sitcom there. Ms. Goldberg piped up. "You should get some cats," she said.

    "I think these are New York rats," the mayor responded."

    Ms. Goldberg considered that and said, "You need those Ninja cats."

    Gil Bloom, who owns Standard Exterminating in Astoria, said the city's rat population had "exploded" over the past couple of years because of three things. "Food, water and shelter," he said yesterday on 21st Street in Queens.

    He pointed to a pile of trash bags on the sidewalk next to some large puddles, then to his client's front yard, where rats had nested. "This is all the rats need," Mr. Bloom said.

    "With that," he said, "two rats today can produce two to three hundred in one year."

    His son, Josh Bloom, 19, put rat poison pellets the size of golf balls in a small plastic trap in the yard.

    "The city only makes it a priority when it becomes a problem, and that's too late," said Gil Bloom, president of the New York State Pest Management Association. "You have to be preventative, not reactive."

    The need for constant vigilance is apparent at the Community Food Resource Center on West 116th Street, a soup kitchen in Harlem next to a vacant lot. It has been waging a war with the rats that somehow keep finding their way into the building.

    The center has plugged holes in the building, repaved the crumbling sidewalk and increased its extermination budget to $4,000 a year, said Hiram Bonner, program director for the group's Community Kitchen program.

    "It's a battle we're constantly fighting," he said yesterday as he walked through the trash-strewn lot. "You can see them scurrying around here in the evening. They burrow under the sidewalk and pop up in the tree pits and scare the heck out of our clients."

    Ron West, who owns the 4rdms Pest Control Systems in Harlem, said that the city could do more to fight rat infestation in vacant lots and buildings.

    "Five years ago, the city was doing a lot of baiting, but now you really have to scream loud if you want them to help out," he said. "The wealthier neighborhoods have more political clout. But here, someone's got to get a rat bite and then call the news and show pictures. I know the city has fiscal problems, but the rats have been exploding all over the place."

    Mr. Gibson said that the Health Department sends inspectors to identify infested areas after complaints from the public. If the landlord fails to clear the building of rats, he is fined and often ordered to reimburse the city for doing it.

    Mr. Gibson said the city's Health Department had been conducting a strict rodent abatement pilot program in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, which will be used as a model for programs to be conducted in areas including Chinatown, East Harlem, the South Bronx and Manhattan Valley, near the northwestern corner of Central Park.

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

  2. #2

    Default Boom Time for Rats

    Ay Chihuahua!

  3. #3

    Default Boom Time for Rats


    If I ever have a band again, it's so going to be named Ninja Cat and the New York Rats.

  4. #4

    Default Boom Time for Rats

    Falconry on every rooftop, a feline dojo in every basement. *Time to take the city back! *

  5. #5

    Default Boom Time for Rats

    Here's a map of the NYC rats:

  6. #6

    Default Boom Time for Rats

    August 15, 2003

    The Word on the Street? For New York's Rats, It's 'Goodbye'


    Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg declared war yesterday on the city's rat population, saying that the rodents had invaded homes and threatened public health for too long before announcing an expansion of the city's efforts to exterminate them.

    "Our administration has zero tolerance for rats," he said. "And I've got one message today, `City to rats: Drop Dead.' "

    Mr. Bloomberg said that officials would increase the number of inspections and exterminations of rats citywide by 10,000, to more than 150,000, in the next year, and expand a pilot program that had cleaned up rat-infested areas in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The program would cover a larger swathe of Bushwick and parts of East Harlem and the south Bronx.

    The mayor and his aides said the city would be increasing its spending on rat control programs by about $1 million, to roughly $13 million. About $300,000 of that would pay for 8,000 heavy-duty, rat-proof trash containers for the targeted areas.

    The mayor's attack on rats was the highlight of a campaign-style swing through much of Brooklyn that was cut short yesterday afternoon by the major power outage. Beginning at 9 a.m., when Mr. Bloomberg convened a staff meeting at the New Utrecht branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, the mayor and his entourage raced to a series of public appearances. He stopped first at the Coney Island Wastewater Treatment Plant, where a large fire had knocked out one of the odor-control units last week. The mayor sniffed the air, which still smelled of soot, and declared that no one should have to put up with such an odor.

    Afterward, Mr. Bloomberg dropped by the Bay Ridge Center for Older Adults, a center for the elderly.

    Then it was off to a noon lunch with local business owners, where the mayor painted a positive outlook.

    But there was one group that the mayor did not try to win over yesterday. In introducing his rat initiative to children at a ball field, he said, "Rats are repulsive. You know what repulsive means? Not nice."

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

  7. #7


    from ny1 news:

    Rat Attack: Team Of Volunteers Take On City's Rats

    JANUARY 06TH, 2004

    When rats are the problem, who you gonna call? NY1 Bronx reporter Dean Meminger says a new group is promising to give the city a hand in the ongoing battle against a centuries-old pest.

    Watch out rats, here comes the Rat Attack Team: a group of extermination companies volunteering their time to get rid of the rodents. Residents and workers at the Carroll Gardens apartments say the team will have its hands full.

    “Last summer we actually had to call the 43rd precinct because we were locked in. The rats were running right up our steps,” said Nilda Gibson of Rainbow Kiddie Academy in the Bronx. ”We could not get out. We had to lock the windows. There were about fifty rats out here that day. The police refused to get out of their car. They said they were not getting out.”

    In neighboring Story Playground residents say rats run wild. The Parks Department did put down poison back in September, but that wasn't enough to get rid of the rodents.

    Now the group Hispanics Across America has gotten involved. The group's president Fernando Mateo who usually deals with livery cab issues says residents contacted him to help with the rat problem.

    “According to the National Pest Control, a few years ago, one rat per person lived in the city,” said Mateo. “We estimate today that there are two rats per person living amongst us. Therefore the numbers we calculate are well over 16 million rats in the city.”

    The city's Health Department says it welcomes any help it can get.

    Mateo says the Rat Attack Team will target areas in the Bronx, Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.

    The Rat Attack Team says it's not just going to come out here and put down poison to kill the rats. The team says it's first going to feed the rats with little bacon and cheese bits – the same sort of treats you might feed your dog.

    “We will be using a non-target bait at first,” said Jose Sonera of All Better Pest Control. “Actually, we’re going to feed them pretty good. This is a non-target bait which means we are going to monitor the activity to see how severe it is.”

    After the rats eat the food, the next course they get will be poison.

    The team says it'll be back in the area weekly to check on the extermination process.

    --Dean Meminger

    Copyright © 2003 NY1 News. All rights reserved.

  8. #8
    Chief Antagonist Ninjahedge's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2003


    Just so long as it is bacon flavored poison, I see no problem with it...

    Maybe they should actually catch and tag some of these suckers so they can see where they are nesting up and solve it that way.....

    Oh, as a side note, I caught the 6th mouse in my apartment in the past 6 weeks or so. They are BAAAAAAACK. (Hoboken)

  9. #9
    Forum Veteran
    Join Date
    Jan 2002
    West Harlem


    We never really had a problem with mice or rats, except at one point last year when there were four in a week (the cat liked it). But nothing really before or since..

  10. #10
    Forum Veteran
    Join Date
    Nov 2002
    New York City


    I've had one or two bad experiences with roaches. Very likely they must have eaten all the rats, because we've had no rodent problems for 15 years.

  11. #11

  12. #12


    February 22, 2004

    Rat Tales


    A short time after the World Trade Center came down, I went rat-trapping in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn with a couple of scientists from the New York City health department. The outing turned out to be historic: the city was trapping live rats for the first time in several decades. Dan Markowski, a Tennessee-born vector control officer, wore a health department windbreaker, and a ponytail stuck out from underneath his cowboy hat. Anne Li, an epidemiologist, was also dressed in a health department windbreaker and jeans. Born in Brooklyn, Li is tall, with a dry sense of humor, and has a complete nonaversion to rats, though most of her work with them occurs in a lab. She had never trapped a Rattus norvegicus on the streets.

    Li had a lot of complimentary things to say about rats, like: "I think rats are so underappreciated." At another point, she turned to me and said, "Rats are the smartest creatures." We were all picked up by Isaac Ruiz, a city exterminator who lives in the Bronx. Ruiz, who was wearing a wool shirt and sunglasses, told me that, unlike Markowski and Li, he was not especially eager to see rats. He lays the poison but doesn't linger. "I don't like to be around them," he said. The city was trapping rats for two reasons. First, the health department wanted an indication of how well its rodent-control measures were working; at that time, Bushwick was the site of a pilot control program, which was expanded citywide last fall. The program uses a little 21st-century technology (more rigorous mapping of rat problem areas, for example, sometimes using mapping software) and a lot of traditional rat-proofing techniques: plugging rat holes, inspecting for landlord sanitation lapses and 8,000 new-and-improved rodent-resistant garbage cans. The other reason for trapping rats came out of the heightened fear that gripped the city after the World Trade Center attacks. Concerns about biological terrorism led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to reach out to the New York health department to help study rat populations in preparation for a potential release of plague bacteria. The C.D.C. wanted to get an idea of the density of the rat population and, more important, how many and what kind of fleas they were host to — fleas, especially Oriental rat fleas, being the main conduit of disease. If there is a big flea population and there is an outbreak of plague, the last thing you want to do is start killing rats. Fleas jump off the dead rats' bodies and, in the absence of warmblooded rat hosts, could leap to humans. Thus Markowski and Li were out in Bushwick, rat-trapping to better prepare for the possibility of New York City being host to the Black Death. Despite a recent influx of artists and young loft-seekers, Bushwick is one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city, and is still feeling the effects of the night it was looted during the blackout of 1977. In meetings back at the health department, the rat-trapping team debated releasing the rats after catching them. On the one hand, they didn't want to tamper with the rat population for the sake of the experiment. On the other hand, they didn't think the people of Bushwick would appreciate seeing the health department releasing rats into the community. The decision was made: check the rats for parasites, draw blood to check for disease and then kill the rats.

    Trapping the rats turned out to be fairly easy. We went to an abandoned, fenced-in lot beneath an elevated train line above Grove Street. The fence had been put up by a local community group, Make the Road by Walking, which once protested a rat infestation in their neighborhood by bringing Rudolph Giuliani, then the mayor, a dead rat on a bed of lettuce. (Make the Road by Walking transformed the lot into a playground last year.) We laid out some rectangular, steel rattraps, made by Tomahawk, a Wisconsin company that is a favorite of scientific rat-trappers. We put peanut butter on the bait trays. "Just a little dab'll do you," Markowski said, as we looked around for appropriate places. Laying down about a half-dozen cagelike traps, we locked up the lot, went for bagels at a Russian bakery in Greenpoint that Ruiz knew about and returned the next morning, our traps filled with skittering, gray-blurred Rattus norvegicus. One had pulled a garbage bag off the street and into the cage, shredded the bag and made a makeshift nest; the others darted from corner to corner, trapped rats. Ruiz was half-repulsed, half-pleased, for he seemed to have caught the largest one: close to two pounds and more than a foot long, not including the tail — the size of a large California-style burrito. "I put the cage next to the biggest hole," he told me. The rats in their cages were put in large black plastic trash bags and then placed in the back of the van. We drove off to a shack in an abandoned lot that Markowski had previously scouted for the rat bloodletting. Once at the lot, Ruiz brought the rats out of the van. He then went back to the van and waited alongside it. He didn't want to watch Markowski draw rat blood. Li, on the other hand, was eager to observe; she said she hoped to learn how to draw rat blood in the field. On the floor of the abandoned shed, they cleared away what appeared to be the debris of a drug addict and took out several clean syringes, some blood containers, cotton swabs and a bottle of halothane, an anesthetic. The wind was blowing hard, slamming a door on the shed. The scene felt somehow illicit. As we prepared to look closely at the rats, Markowski cautioned me not to make too much of them; he seemed to be saying that I shouldn't get caught up in rat lore and rat mystique — the images of rats as big as cats, rats that control the city's underworld. They were only rats, he explained to me, easily sedated, easily controlled, good scientific subjects, even in the wild. As he spoke, he opened the garbage bag covering one of the cages. Li treated two cotton balls with halothane. She dropped the cotton balls into the garbage bag and twisted it shut tight. This was an attempt to put the rat to sleep. In a few minutes Markowski looked into the garbage bag at the rat. He shook his head as he closed the bag. Markowski looked a little incredulous. "He's livelier than he was before," Markowski said. They increased the dosage of tranquilizer, putting in three treated cotton swabs this time. The wind was picking up. They waited and looked in the bag again. The rat was still alert. "That rat's one tough bastard," Markowski said. Markowski increased the dosage again. Finally, the rat looked unconscious, its tail limp, though when Markowski took it out of the cage he quickly discovered that it was still awake. He held the rat down on the ground with his hands and placed a halothane-treated swab directly over the rat's nose, holding the cotton with tweezers. The rat was going from groggy to woozy to sleepy to asleep, and as this happened, I was able to see that the rat was a large female, measuring, as we later determined, about 11 inches long, not including the tail, which was close to another 10 inches and looked to me like something belonging to an armadillo. At last the rat seemed at peace. Markowski held the rat down on the ground and plunged the needle into its chest, aiming for the rat's heart. He drew out the rat blood and bottled it; the blood was a deep, rich mammalian red. I looked away, over at Ruiz, who was still standing next to the van. Markowski put the rat in a freezer bag, with another dose of halothane. The halothane would kill the rat: it slipped from rat sleep to rat death.

    Rat-control programs are like diets in that cities are always trying a new one. In the city, rats and men live in conflict, one side scurrying from the other or destroying the other's habitat — an unending and brutish war. Rat stories are war stories, and they are told in conversation and on the news, in dispatches from the front that is all around us, though mostly underneath. The stories considered the most newsworthy in New York usually involve seemingly huge rat infestations and surface with regularity, like last summer's story of the firemen forced to move from a rat-infested firehouse in Queens. There are, of course, rats throughout New York at any given time, but when a large, local infestation is noted, it leads to the perception that rats are gaining ground against humans. When this happens, certain predictable patterns of behavior occur on the human side. First, the city moves to a higher state of rat alert, and as a result New Yorkers begin to see rats where they never noticed them before. Then, whoever is mayor at the time makes numerous statements that seek to ensure the public that "this ugly condition," to use the phrase of Mayor William O'Dwyer in 1950, will be taken care of. "Something should be done," O'Dwyer said in a statement that was followed by the appointment of a citywide rat specialist. In 1997, during a rat alert, the city formed the Interagency Rodent Extermination Task Force. This rat offensive was typical in that the city trapped and poisoned rats until the rat population was reduced, but of course not eradicated. The mother of all New York City rat battles took place on Rikers Island, beginning around 1915 and lasting well into the 1930's. Rikers Island sits in the East River at the opening of Bowery Bay. Once it was small and bucolic and green, an 87-acre patch of land owned since 1664 by a family of early Dutch settlers named Rycken. The city bought the island in 1884 and used it as a dump for old metal and cinders. It was one of the first designated dumps in New York. Rikers Island worked as an antidote to the city's garbage problem until people began to complain about Rikers Island itself. Very soon, it had grown into a 415-acre island — a mass of garbage on and surrounding the original island, which in addition to being a dump was now also home to a prison farm. "Such a mass of putrescent matter was perhaps never before accumulated in one spot in so short a time," Harper's Weekly wrote in 1894. One complaint about Rikers Island was rats. Rats from all over the city came to Rikers Island, arriving on the fleets of garbage scows. Within the island was a huge lake of stagnant water, and the rats lived along the shore, feeding on garbage, drinking in the refuse-infused lake; in its putrid isolation, Rikers Island was a rat utopia. An official with the Department of Corrections at the time estimated that there were a million rats. The rats ate from the prison's vegetable garden. The rats ate the pigs on the prison farm. The rats ate a dog that was supposed to kill the rats. The Corrections Department baited and trapped, but as is often the case in particularly large infestations encouraged by particularly large amounts of potential rat food, the rats bred faster than they could be killed. There was a suggestion that the city bring thousands of snakes to the island so that the snakes could kill the rats, then a suggestion that the rats be killed with rat-destroying bacteria. Neither of those suggestions was acted upon. Then, in 1930, there were reports of rats swimming from Rikers Island to Roslyn, a high-toned summer community on Long Island. That fall, according to newspapers, the Sanitation Department used World War I-era poison gas to kill some of the rats. The next year, a Manhattan dentist named Harry Unger proposed leading a hunting party of a dozen rifle-armed men. Unger and his posse were poised to invade the island until the city called them off, fearing the hunters might shoot the prison guards or one another.

    At last, in the spring of 1933, two exterminators — the Billig Brothers, Irving and Hugo — had some success, when, after supervising the placement of 25,000 baits around the island, they carried off 2,000 rat carcasses on the first day. They estimated three million rats were living on Rikers Island. They estimated that they would be able to kill 25,000 rats, and they saw those rats killed as an investment toward rats that would not need to be killed in the future. (It is not known how many rats they actually killed.) "Remember," Irving said, "each female rat can have four litters a year. Every litter contains from 5 to 21 rats. These young rats will have families of their own in four months, and their children will be having other children in four more months. Now, just figure how many rats we have killed by killing 25,000." The Billigs were successful, in that they reduced the population significantly, though modern studies indicate that Irving Billig probably underestimated the rat's reproductive capacity.

    Rats live in the world where man lives. As the grizzly bear indicates wilderness, so Rattus norvegicus indicates inhabitedness, or at least the opposite of wildness, which is garbage and trash and homes and apartments and man. The not-so-epic-seeming story of rats is close to one version of the epic story of man: when they arrive as immigrants to a newfound land, rats proceed to push out creatures that preceded them, to multiply to such an extent as to stretch resources to the limit, to consume their way toward famine. At that point, they decline. Rats live in man's universe, surviving on the effluvia of human society; they eat our garbage. Rats command a perverse celebrity status — nature's mobsters — because of their habits and because of their disease-carrying ability. And yet, despite all this, rats are ignored or destroyed but rarely studied in their natural habitat; disparaged but not often described. The precedent for trapping live rats in New York City came from the work of David Davis, the little-known city rat scholar, who was the first naturalist to apply to an alley rat the same kind of up-close nature research applied to, for instance, the threatened marbled murrelet in its habitat on the Northwest coastal forest. Davis began studying rats during World War II. The U.S. government was concerned that the Germans might use rats to spread disease through Europe, the way the U.S. government is concerned about Al Qaeda today. After the war, with Europe's infrastructure in ruins, the U.S. was concerned about rats ruining food supplies and spreading disease.

    The Rodent Ecology project was founded in Baltimore at Johns Hopkins University; the scientists there were working at the dawn of ecology, studying the relationship of an organism to its environment and to its fellow organisms and doing so with an organism that, frankly, no one wanted to have any kind of relationship with. They went into neighborhoods that didn't see a lot of scientists — beat-up, rundown, near-the-waterfront neighborhoods. It was a new frontier for wildlife biologists. As P. Quentin Tomich, a biologist who worked with Davis as a graduate student and subsequently went off to study plague in rodents in Hawaii, told me, "No one had thought of the urban slums as a habitat." Davis trapped rats, marked them, released them, trapped them again, and his papers opened a floodgate of myth-busting and groundbreaking rat information. Davis showed that rats, commonly thought to be wanderers, in fact live in very small areas, in colonies; that rats generally stay within 65 feet of their nests; that rats, when released far from their nest, will nonetheless wander for miles; that male rats tend to go farther away from their nests than female rats; that one way rats may protect themselves is by becoming completely familiar with their home territory, their city alley or block; that rats are likely to cross alleys but not roads; that rats use regular runways or paths to feed, taking the same paths night after night, rarely diverging, rarely straying ("For example, a rat may live under the steps, run along the fence to the alley and there feed on garbage," Davis wrote); that rats in the city are often bigger than rats in the country; and that the social rankings of the rat colony are of great significance. In "Characteristics of the Global Rat Populations," an article published in The American Journal of Health in 1951, Davis wrote: "As the population increases relative to its food supply, the higher ranking members still get adequate food, but the low members begin to starve. Low-ranking females have poor reproductive success, and progeny from low-ranking females have little chance to grow normally." Throughout the 50's, Davis was America's rodent-control guru. He traveled with America's rat populations. He consulted with cities on their rats, preaching his most important discovery throughout the country — that poisoning rats was not in itself an effective way of controlling them. In fact, when rats are killed off, the pregnancy rates of the surviving rats double and the survivors rapidly gain weight. The rats that survive become stronger. "Actually, the removal merely made room for more rats," Davis wrote. The only way to get rid of rats was to get rid of the rat food, or garbage. But no one wanted to hear this: it was the dawn of the age of the chemical, of poisons and pesticides, and people seemed to want a sexier, chemical-based fix. A forgotten accomplishment of David Davis is his debunking of what is still today the most often quoted statistic about rats — the one-rat-per-person rule. This statistic is ritually used in news stories about rats and has been for almost a hundred years. It is not true. It is a bastardization of a statistic derived from a study of rats written in England in 1909 by W.R. Boelter, titled "The Rat Problem." At the time, Boelter toured the English countryside and asked the following question: Is it reasonable to assume that there is one rat per acre? People responded by saying things like "certainly" or "absurdly low." Boelter did not ask people in cities the same question, and in the end, he made an educated guess: one rat per acre in England. Because there were 40 million cultivated acres in England at the time, he concluded that there were 40 million rats. Coincidentally, 40 million people lived in England in 1909. The one-rat-per-acre statistic became one rat per human.

    People loved that statistic, perhaps because they abhorred it. They did not bother to recalculate for their own particular rat and human populations — an extremely labor-intensive process that only Davis even seemed interested in doing. And thus, it has become the sacred rat statistic. The United Nations has used it. Pest-control companies use it. Health departments use it. Even today, it is commonly said that in New York there are eight million rats, one for every New Yorker.

    We don't know exactly how many rats there are in New York City today. "The newspapers, they all want that number," says Robert Corrigan, a rat-control consultant recently hired by the city. "It's all gobbledygook." But we know that there are probably fewer than eight million. We know this thanks to Davis, who in 1949 analyzed New York's rat population and called the one-rat-per-human statistic "absurd." He had just completed a precise calculation of the rat population of Baltimore by trapping, counting burrows and measuring such things as rat runways and rat droppings. In New York, he began his work in six blocks in East Harlem, bringing in an experienced trapper. At first, Davis determined there were an average of three rats per apartment in infested Harlem buildings, mostly in kitchens and bathrooms.

    But he further determined that more people thought they had rats than actually had them. When he added up his calculations, New York's rat population was nowhere near eight million. Even the New York waterfront, which was mythically associated with rats, was less infested than assumed. "Certainly, there are no more than a few thousand in the entire dock areas of New York City," Davis wrote. In all, Davis put the rat population of New York at one rat for every 36 people, or 250,000 rats — a rat population roughly the size of the human population of Akron, Ohio, today. When the health department read Davis's report, it canceled a citywide rat extermination plan. Still, the number-of-humans-equals-number-of-rats formula would not die. It is something people want to believe. A few years later, even the New York City Health Department was telling people that there were eight million rats in New York. Rat hysteria continues, some of it understandable, some of it successfully playing up the larger-than-life news-selling power of rats: see the excellent night shots of rats that show up like seasonal bird migrations on summer TV news broadcasts, the rats skittering in the camera light, the grease-slicked sidewalks shimmering. Rat-infestation complaints to the health department increased this year, from 16,000 for fiscal year 2002 to 21,000 for 2003. This past summer, in addition to the evacuation of Engine Company 298 from its fire station in Queens because of Rattus norvegicus, there were reports of rat infestations throughout the city: one well-publicized rat sighting nourishes the next. On Aug. 14, the day of the big blackout, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced an expansion of the experimental Bushwick program, increasing inspections and exterminations in the Bronx and Harlem and budgeting $300,000 for rat-resistant garbage cans — news that was lost in the blackout. "New York to rats — drop dead!" he said from a lot in Bushwick.

    The city's largest rat problem, the infestation in and around ground zero following Sept. 11, was successfully controlled by advance work by the health department, as well as exterminators who volunteered from around the country. But their efforts got little attention in the press. Months later, James Gibson, the Health Department commissioner who heads the city's rodent-control program, testified to the City Council that they had successfully contained a potential rat explosion. After it was all over, Markowski, who like Li has since left the health department, summed it up this way: "This is our dilemma. If you're out there doing your job, there are no rats. But it's notoriously hard to confirm your job. The only way to prove it is to stop."

    That autumn afternoon in Bushwick, after we had trapped the rats and were setting up our rat-blood-drawing station in the abandoned lot, Markowski and Li began to tackle their second rat. They started with a larger dosage of halothane on the second rat, hoping to anesthetize it quicker. It was a larger rat, a foot long. "He's very healthy," Li said. "He's missing a little hair on his nose, but I think that's because he was trying to get out of the cage." They found no fleas on the rat, which was a good thing. (In fact, the C.D.C. would eventually find that there did not appear to be a significant rat-flea infestation in New York City rats, making a potential flea-borne biological plague weapon less effective.) "Anne, you want to bleed this one?" Markowski asked. "O.K.," Li said. Two cotton balls soaked with halothane were not enough. They tried more. "This is what, four balls?" Markowski asked. "Man, four balls after taking two balls already." Markowski shook his head again and held a cotton ball to the rat's big rat nose. "We're underestimating these rats," Markowski said.

    Li agreed. "These guys are amazing," she said. She began to draw blood from the rat, but as she did it became clear that the rat was not asleep. "Uh, he's still awake," Li said. Markowski had already noticed this. He had seen the rat moving, seen it reviving and regaining consciousness, and rather than waste precious rat crisis time alerting us to the rat's movements, he was, in an impressively unfrantic way, looking for a way to stop the rat — any way to secure the rat, to hold it down. Finally he just stepped on the rat's tail. "Oh, you were just play asleep, weren't you?" Markowski said. The rat rose up and seemed to slash at Markowski; it snarled. In a minute, they had it anesthetized again. The wind blew and the shed door slammed and I saw a white cat come out of the trash, emerging from behind a plastic replica of a Greek bust. In knocking out the third rat, Markowski and Li increased the halothane dosage significantly. When they thought the rat was asleep, they took it out of its cage. It, too, was a large healthy rat, a foot long. Markowski was beginning to bleed the rat. As he did, he noticed something on the rat's fur. "What's that?" Markowski said. "It's a tick," Li said. Markowski leaned into the rat. "It's a mite." "O.K., Dan," Li said. But as they were talking, the rat began to squiggle greatly. This time, the rat's movement was more than just the groggy squiggling and snarling that the other rats had made; this time, even after a large dose of tranquilizer, the rat was somehow recovering all its rat strength. Markowski stopped drawing blood. He moved calmly but rapidly. He seemed to think about trying more halothane on the rat. Then the rat moved again — this time less rat-on-drugs and more wild rat. Markowski put his foot down on the tail "Oh, that's it," Li said. She backed away — never once taking her eyes off the recovering rat. Markowski pulled up his foot. I was standing there, too, right next to the rat, and I looked around to figure out where I could run, if necessary, and then realized that I was between the rat and a wall — trapped. So I just stood as still as possible, as the rat lifted his big body up and first waddled, and then walked and then wearily scampered off. I was trembling a little. Markowski was not trembling, but he did seem as if he were in shock. "I'm using my foot," he said. He was speaking in the present tense, as if watching a replay. "But the rat still gets up, and pulls himself away." Markowski was really shaking his head now. In fact, he was no longer telling me to keep rats in perspective. "Rats are incredible, they really are," he said. "I mean, there aren't many animals you can bleed like that and that can take it." Li added: "And the thing is you're never going to beat them. They have something going for them that you don't, which is natural instinct. Like you don't instinctively get rats. You're not a cat. But they instinctively avoid death and the obstacles that we put in their way to kill them. Besides, I always say that if you killed every rat in New York City, you would have created new housing for 60 million rats."

    "Let's put it like this," Markowski said. "If you put that cat in that bag with the halothane, he'd be dead." We all stood there and looked over at where the rat had returned to the wild.

    "It's a New York City rat," Markowski said.

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  13. #13


    Was Frank Zappa from NYC? (Hot Rats!)

    Thanks for the grisly news. We might need to get a cat or ten when we move to Queens.

    I am trying to find out where that Queens firehouse was that was razed because it was overrun by rodents.

    BTW, is there a newer map of where the rat things are in the NYC region?
    Things must have changed since 1999, with 9/11 and all, so I wonder if there are fewer rats than back then or more.

    ****Not to be a rattusphobiac (is that a word?), but
    where are the MOST rat-infested areas of the Big Apple? It makes worms sound so appealing! Please let me know. i like to cook and hate to have rat droppings,etc in my food.

    NYR2B and hates rats
    but my name rhymes with them
    Matt (not a rat!) 8)

  14. #14

  15. #15



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