New York has rat problem; Pandemic has only made it bigger, report says
Richard Drew

New York has rat problem; Pandemic has only made it bigger, report says

Rat problem is not new to New York City, but the menace has grown since the pandemic with more outdoor dining becoming a norm since the pandemic.

New York City seems to have seen more rats this year than it has in a decade. There were some 7,400 rat sightings in April, with people making as many distress calls to the 311 service request line, news agency AP reported citing city data. In April 2021, the number was 6,150. The rat sightings in April were up by more than 60% from roughly the first four months of 2019.

According to the report, the number of rat sightings in the first four months of 2022 was the highest recorded since at least 2010, which was the first year from when online records are available. While about 10,500 sightings were recorded in all of 2010, there were 25,000 such reports through 2021.

The sightings are most frequent during warm months, the report noted.

While it cannot be said at the moment if the rat population in NYC has increased, the Covid-19 pandemic may have made them more visible, the report said.

New York has rat problem; Pandemic has only made it bigger, report says
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At least 13 people were hospitalised — one of them died — last year because of leptospirosis, which affects the kidneys and liver. Infections in humans are mostly associated with rats.

The Pandemic Effect

Experts are of the opinion that New York City’s rat problem increased as residents emerged from the pandemic, according to the AP report. With people opting for outdoor dining more, the rats also moved out of their burrows hunting for food.

Quoting rat scholars, the report said rodents need less than an ounce of food every day to survive and they don’t usually travel more than a city block to look for food.

Matt Frye from Cornell University, a pest management specialist for the state of New York, told AP that rat sightings outdoors depend on “how much food is available to them and where”. He said rat problems are “directly tied to human behavior”.

With outdoor dining, an option that was born of necessity during the Covid pandemic, becoming a permanent fixture at most places, a further increase in rat population is not being dismissed.

As pointed out in the report, unfinished meals left at tables at the curbside sheds of restaurants sometimes draw rats. Fewer rats were seen in subways as Covid-wary people shunned them, leaving not much food waste to feast on.

Rats lie in the planter boxes outside these dining sheds in wait for any fallen crumb.

Richard Reynolds, who operates a rat-hunting group that periodically takes out teams of dogs to sniff out vermin and kill them. He told AP: “What happened during the pandemic was that your restaurants shut down. When outside dining came along, there was food again.”

The Problem Is Centuries-Old, Though

Rats are not native to North America, but the rat problem is not new to New York City. The authorities have for years tried to find a better way to tackle the menace, but without much success, it appears.

Documenting the rat issue in 1860, the New York Times published a report on how a child died after being “mutilated by rats” at Bellevue hospital in Manhattan.

It is said that rats have been present in NYC since the 1700s. According to a 2021 report in The Guardian, the Norway rat — Rattus norvegicus — dominates the city’s rat population. The brown rat native to China spread its roots as it travelled around the globe with Norwegian sailing ships. According to a Columbia University study, Norway rats arrived in the US sometime around 1776, “brought over in boxes of grain by Hessian troops (German soldiers) who were hired by Britain to fight the American colonists”.

From a toxic soup trap and better waste management to a $32 million plan and dry ice treatment, the city has seen various efforts to end the rat problem.

Current Mayor Eric Adams recently announced the administration’s latest measure. Padlocked trash bins are to be placed on the roadsides to reduce the big piles of garbage bags that the rodents usually feast on.

“You’re tired of the rodents, you’re tired of the smell, you’re tired of seeing food, waste and spillage,” the mayor was quoted as saying in the AP report cited above.

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