Would you kill a Rat?

Would you kill a Rat?

If the first thing you thought of when you saw the headline was 'rats, moles and disloyalty' then you may be watching too many Mafia movies.

Here sadly, we are talking about sad old vermin that eat your food, make noise at night and possibly spread germs and diseases.


About five years ago in Cape Town, reports started circulating about a growing rat problem.

People in low-income areas like Khayelitsha for example, or people in areas with commercial food vendors not always sticking with the health code, complain about rats eating their food, damaging their possessions and biting them at night.

One resident in the Western Cape Premier, Helen Zille, was bitten on her toe one morning when collecting her newspaper.

Typically over the years, before have tried various methods of getting rid of these pesky pests- from traps to poisons to prevention. The City of Cape Town relies mainly on poison when controlling rats.

The danger is that rat poison is harmful, especially to children, pets and non-pests who may ingest accidentally, and animals like owls that feed on rats and may die if they feed on a poisoned one.


In 2015, Khayelitsha Environmental Health (EH) (a municipality unit) tried an ingenious solution- they hired unemployed people to set cage traps for rats.

While it proved popular, it eventually had to be halted after the South African National Council for Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) objected because the rats were subsequently drowned. The PWP resorted to setting poisoned bait in people’s homes instead.


In Nigeria, after a popular program urged people to use rat gum, there was an epidemic created accidentally because people began sending these live captured animals to stations and the company as proof that it worked.

In the end, the rats would then still have to be killed and disposed of.


 A more permanent solution is still being sought and back in 2017, University of Cape Town (UCT) researchers ran a survey in Site C, Khayelitsha, asking people about their experience of rats and what they thought about the drowning and poisoning of rats. It found that most households reported serious rodent infestation and that people agreed that workers should be allowed to trap and drown rats.

Those who said they were concerned about rat poison killing other animals like cats and owls were especially likely to support the cage-trapping and drowning of rats.

Those who believed that drowning was painful for the rat were less likely to agree with cage-trapping and drowning (suggesting support for the NSPCA’s position) but this was a minority position.

The EH continued its search for poison-free solutions, even considering a novel proposal to transport the captured rats to a raptor rehabilitation centre where they could be euthanized by CO2 gas and fed to the raptors.

This idea, which appeared on the face of it to be doubly good for conservation proved impractical and with animal welfare concerns of its own.


The NSPCA is also making an effort to deal with the problem. They reportedly told UCT researchers that “The Cape of Good Hope SPCA is working towards a practical solution in finding methods to euthanize large numbers of captured rodents in an attempt to ensure animal welfare is maintained, thus assisting the community members of Khayelitsha.”


For now, it seems the best way to deal with rodent infestation issues is by PREVENTING these issues with methods like proper disposal of waste, and improving human housing.


Do you kill rats? How do you deal with rats in your area?

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Nathalie Leblond