It’s not every day the pest management industry makes it into the pages of National Geographic. But in the April issue this year, PMP Scott Mullaney was featured in an article titled “How Rats Became an Inescapable Part of City Living.”
Mullaney, director of animal services/principal at Unique Pest Management, Woodbridge, Va., escorted a National Geographic team (a writer, photographer and videographer) for an evening in the alleys of Washington, D.C. There the team observed Unique’s three ratting dogs detecting and removing 66 rats within two hours.
“I couldn’t have crafted it or scripted it any better. The night they were there, we broke our record of what we’ve ever gotten. We got 66 adult [rats] in two hours with three dogs,” says Mullaney. His company has been using canines to detect and abate rats for more than three years, and “we’re seeing that the problem [with rats] is just getting worse and [more] widespread,” he says. The urban rat problem is mostly due to human beings’ litter, overflowing trash cans, and dumpsters in the cities, as well as urban infrastructure and architecture issues, he added.
Unique Pest Management was featured in just one part of the article, which discussed the trend behind growing rodent populations in urban areas, international control efforts and the history of Norway and roof rats.
AN URBAN PROBLEM. To understand the increasing urban rodent problem, National Geographic also enlisted the help of Bobby Corrigan, a New York City urban rodentolgoist, who was quoted extensively throughout the article. Corrigan, who spends his days helping to design large-scale rodent control programs, met with the writer of the National Geographic article to explain “what the profile of a city rat population looks like.” He also accompanied the photographer to observe and photograph in a natural setting what rats “normally do day in and day out versus a laboratory or a staged setting,” he said.
Multiple reasons exist for the reemergence of rodents in cities globally, Corrigan said. “It’s a confluence of environmental and sociological factors” and “there is nothing simple about it,” he said. “The big reason for the explosion, in part, is because the global population of human beings on earth is increasing.”
Rats follow and thrive on trails of food left by humans in restaurants, shops, campgrounds, trash cans, dumpsters and with litter. Each person generates “anywhere from five to seven pounds of waste every 24 hours,” Corrigan said. Some people handle waste correctly, and some do not, he added. And, with the increase of the human population in general, especially in cities, the amount of waste increases, and therefore, the number of rats increases, as well. “These are relatively big mammals and they need food. So, no food, no rats,” he says. Changing the rats’ environment and taking care of sanitation issues could make a big difference in the rodent population.
Another factor for the rising city rodent population is that “our cities are getting old” and “infrastructures are breaking down,” and less money exists for big sanitation forces, explains Corrigan. City rats live in sewers and if the sewer system breaks, rats surface. Trying to control the rat population above ground with only rodenticides and traps does not solve the overall problem, and then more rats emerge, he says. Controlling the rising rat problem is larger than rodenticide treatments and trapping; the program needs to be “carefully analyzed and carefully designed, even on a small scale,” Corrigan says. “We’ve been at war with these rats in our cities for 300 years, and we’re not really winning that war in my opinion,” adds Corrigan.
“The other factor is global warming,” Corrigan said. Although rats do not hibernate, they stop reproducing in cold months. If the rats have just one additional month of warmer days, they could potentially produce one additional litter in their lifetime. “We’ve had the warmest decade in the history of mankind,” and “that one more litter of eight to 12 pups across millions of rats,” multiplies to more and more rats, he says.