If you believe a recent report in the Daily Telegraph, “Sydney is in the grip of a rat plague so big it is threatening to undermine the city’s reputation with overseas visitors”. The report goes on to say “There are now more disease-ridden rats living in Sydney than people, and requests for exterminations have doubled in just a year.” Scary stuff indeed but is there more to the current rodent invasion than first meets the eye?
Earlier in the year the City Of Sydney Council rebuffed residents’ claims that rats were running amok in suburbs like Darlinghurst and Surry Hills. At the time the official line was that “there is no appreciable increase in rat numbers in Inner Sydney, despite anecdotal reports of a rise in rodent numbers”. A few months later and the Council has supposedly experienced a 75% jump in the number of rat oriented complaints it has received.
Rats of course have been part of the Sydney landscape ever since the First Fleet trucked into Botany Bay back in 1788. It was a long arduous voyage for the humans on board and you can also bet the English black rats did it hard scrounging for anything edible in the deep dark depths of the hull. One can almost envisage the joy that rushed through the rat pack when the sniff of terra firma approached and they scurried away into the new colony.
When the bubonic plague hit Sydney in January of 1900 it was rats who spread the disease throughout the city. Once it was clearly established they were the carriers, hundreds of rat catchers were employed to round them up, especially the critters who disembarked from overseas ships. Nevertheless there were a further twelve plague outbreaks through until 1925 with hundreds of recorded deaths as wave after wave of infected rats arrived by sea.
These days the bubonic plague is hopefully long gone but rats are still blamed for spreading disease and carrying bad bacteria. Part of the problem of course is that we continue to feed them, not only with the obscene amount of uneaten food we throw out but the careless way in which much of it is packaged as garbage. Every burst or badly sealed garbage bag is a gourmet feast for rodents not to mention the amount of takeaway food that is simply ditched in streets and parks.
In Sydney today ibis’, pigeons and rats are the grateful recipients of mountains of organic trash generated by today’s wasteful society. Whilst the sometimes sandwich snatching ibis are tolerated and viewed with curiosity by many a tourist, and pigeons taken for granted, rats are still regarded as bottom of the vermin shelf.
If rats are really outnumbering people in Sydney what we need is a giant LED rat counter, attached to the front of the Sydney Town Hall, a bit like the US National Debt Clock. As the rat numbers increase alarmingly each day Sydneysiders will be encouraged to waste less and dispose of their garbage in a secure and rat proof way. Eventually the numbers will begin to fall as the rat population is starved out of their former happy scrounging grounds, like Hyde Park and the back streets of Darlinghurst and Surry Hills. It could be a great solution but let’s be realistic who is going to count the dastardly little rodents each day?
By Coffin Ed.