Just yesterday, New York City announced that gas rationing will continue through Thanksgiving. Our subway service is more or less back to normal, but then again what is normal in New York City? Rats are a normal part of the landscape, I suppose. We barely flinch anymore at the sight of rats scurrying about; cutting across our paths, or scaring our puppies.
Just this morning I cut across the path behind Starbucks and lo and behold there were a couple of dead rats. Should I call 311 to let them know? I mean, we are told to call when there are dead birds on the ground (not as a result of being crushed to death by a car or knocked out silly by a bike rider) because they may be an indicator of spreading West Nile Virus. The past four weeks or so, rats have been in the New York City headlines again due to Superstorm Sandy. Headlines such as “subway rats may flood NYC streets”; “After Sandy’s New York Deluge, A flood of rats?” and “NYC Rats: Stronger than Sandy”. Well, I am happy to report that there was no mass exodus of rats onto the streets. Although, we are all pretty sure that should any apocalyptic event occur, roaches, Cher and NYC rats will be sure to survive.
What makes the NYC rat so hardy and so compelling? I mean NYC rats have their very own Wikipedia entry. How cool, icky and kookie is that? Well, to start with, NYC rats are the very epitome of survival of the fittest. Decades ago (close to a century ago) there were two types of rats in New York City: brown rat and ship rat. (Don’t insert joke here). The brown rat being bigger out outcompeted and outlasted the ship rat to become king of New York City vermin. There are some estimates that put the ratio of rats to humans in New York City at 4:1; meaning there are approximately 32 million rats in New York City. Yeah, I’d say that qualifies as “King of the World”. Take that James Cameron.
Supposedly, rats in NYC like the corner store, or what we call Bodegas, because of the trash disposal practices at said places. It kind of makes sense that there was a dead one behind Starbucks this morning then. Starbucks has in essence now become a natural habit for rats. Yikes, I said it. I’m still going to go get my skinny vanilla latte. I won’t let a big ole rat take me away from my commercialized coffee habit.
Kentucky Fried Chicken has also become a favorite hangout for NYC rats. Did you catch the new story a few years back on the rats that had overtaken several fast food joints in NYC’s Greenwich Village area? Apparently, someone said a rat fell from the ceiling as he or she was eating (according to the filed complaint). Yet, that KFC earned a passing grade following a city health code inspection. Do note that the parent company of KFC is called Yum Brands. The fact that the rats are hanging out down there kind of make sense, right? I mean, it was the place where all the hipsters used to hang out but has become yuppie central. So, why not have rats there as well?-Just to clarify, I mean the Village and not KFC.
Oftentimes, as you walk about the city, there are huge inflated rats positioned outside certain companies with union workers handing out leaflets to passer-bys. The rat is positioned to highlight where groups feel that labor standards are not being met, including the payment of area standard wages. Supposedly, these rats that have multiplied throughout the city, are called “Scabby The Rat“ originally designed for a Chicago Union in 1990. Talk about another city infested with rats.
Obviously, rats constitute a system-wide problem. Did you know there is a Rat Control Academy? Its goal is to help pest controllers engage in Integrated Pest Management (IPM). The two-day curriculum includes an overview of the biology and behavior of rodents, the use of exterior bait boxes and how to address the issue of rats in empty lots, restaurant, subways, train terminals, multi-family housing, sewers, and parks. And there are preventive measures that include geo-tagging (this is the process of adding geographical identification metadata to various media such as a geo-tagged photographs, maps and so on). Those of you in the public health field or in community based organizations may find this verbiage a tad familiar. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has now added geo-tagging as one of its tactics in the prevention of HIV/AIDS. It gives me the image of putting little GPS trackers on human and rodents alike. Seems kind of Blade Runneresque . But as Joseph Mitchell warned in the now-classic book Rats on the Waterfront: “The rats of New York can outthink any man who has not made a study of their habits.”
Again, its survival of the fittest. Speaking of that, did you hear about how Ecuador plans to kill 180 million rats (yes, 180 million) by dropping 22 tons of poison on them? Apparently, the black rat reached the Ecuadorian Galapagos Islands when it was introduced by whalers and buccaneers beginning in the 17th century, and they then began to feed on the eggs and hatchlings of the islands’ native species, which have included giant tortoises, lava lizards, snakes, hawks and iguanas. But if the rats have their way, these other creatures will go the way of the dodo. Just so you know, this kill-the-black rat military operation underway in the Galapagos commenced on November 14-which just so happens to be National Guacamole Day (see my previous blog’s ode to that day). So, basically “Ratmageddon” started on the day of celebrating our guacamole heritage.
The Galapagos were declared protected as a UNESCO Natural Heritage site in 1978 which is partly why this rat slaughtering is occurring. Perhaps if all the local bodegas in New York City are also labeled UNESCO sites, a comparable ratmageddon will also occur in New York and rid of us of our fuzzy vermin. But then again, we have grown so accustomed to them. I can’t imagine life in the city without them. Where would the little ubiquitous yapping dogs be without their frenemy the rat? Where would the union workers be without their rat icon? Without the rat around, what would keep us on our toes at night as we speedwalk home? Oh, you silly vermin, how New York really does need you!