Rats have long been known around the world as culprits responsible for spreading disease, fouling foods, starting fires, and even disabling motor vehicles. Specifically, in cities, rats run rampant, posing numerous health and safety concerns. Yet scientists cannot seem to win the war against these rodents. Why is that?
According to a paper published in the Journal of Urban Ecology, rats are actually the least studied animal in cities. Researchers explained the dilemma by saying it is difficult to effectively fight the population of city rats without greater access to urban properties.
These rodents are hard to research and control because they are highly adapted creatures that can live alongside humans without being threatened directly or even seen by us. The lead author of the paper and visiting Fordham University research scholar, Michael H. Parsons, said it is at our own peril that we neglect to study rats. He went on to point out a staggering fact… no war in history has ever decimated 1/3 of the human population; however, rats have.
If scientists had access to private homes and businesses, they would have the ability to setup equipment necessary to monitor the rats privately. This research could then lead to a better understanding of population distribution, improvements in pathogen surveillance, and would allow the scientists to test different control methods they are currently developing.
Fordham University Associate Professor of Biology and co-author of the paper, Jason Munshi-South, said some individuals and business owners have been reluctant to admit they have a rat problem for fear of fines from public health authorities. Therefore, the team has come up with a plan to work with these people, providing confidential extermination services that are free of charge.
While the team has been successful using this method to gain entry to more urban areas, they said the challenge is getting the word out to owners so they will know the service exists. As a way to help bring about more awareness and incentivize people to participate, Parsons is offering a reward in the amount of $1,000 USD for information that would lead him to a viable site in Manhattan where scientists can conduct research.
By Trixie Dillwood
Photo Courtesy Michael Cammer, NYU