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Mass rat sterilisation
Mass rat sterilisation could be the answer to New Zealand's pest free future  ContraPest would make female rats incapable of producing babies. Making rats infertile on a mass scale could be the answer to New Zealand's pest problem.  While the technology to make rodents infertile has been trialled in places like New York conservation minister Maggie Barry said it would likely still be a few years before it could be implemented here.  Barry floated the idea at a funding announcement in New Plymouth on Thursday for Taranaki's Mounga Project, which aims to ramp up pest eradication and native bird re-introduction in Egmont National Park over the next 10 years.  Maggie Barry, Jamie Tuuta and Steven Joyce announced four new investors for the Taranaki Mounga Project on Thursday. "There's still a need for 1080, we have to do what we have to do in the meantime to bring predators down to a manageable level," she said.  After pests were culled back with 1080, Barry said it would pave the way for the Department of Conservation to use pest trapping technologies that were only just starting to emerge.  The Taranaki Mounga Project aims to reduce predator numbers in Egmont National Park and ramp up native bird re-introduction. This could include ContraPest, a permanent contraceptive for female rats which when consumed, as a bait, kills off the rat's eggs in the womb and hence its ability to have babies.  These technologies could come in many other forms like self-resetting traps, drones or utilising GPS tracking to kill pests, economic development minister Steven Joyce said.  "Technology is becoming available to actually help us take on this predator free by 2050 challenge," he said.  Joyce said making rats infertile with bait was on the cards for New Zealand, but was still "awhile away" from being implemented here. "With technology like drones or GPS it's going to make it easier to deliver large swathes of predator free areas." However Joyce said it would be "a while yet" before the likes of ContraPest was used in New Zealand.  He said there wasn't a "final pathway" on how to tackle the predator free New Zealand by 2050 goal but believed it was "likely to be doable". "We're not looking for a silver bullet, it will take a range of methods to achieve our goal." As well as announcing future predator control methods Joyce and Barry were in New Plymouth to announce new investors for the Taranaki Mounga Project, on top of the $28 million the crown has put in to get the ball rolling.  DOC, the NEXT Foundation and Taranaki iwi were the primary partners and investors of the project but have now been joined by Shell New Zealand, TSB Community Trust, Jasmine Social Investments and Landcare Research.  Taranaki Mounga Project chairman Jamie Tuuta said all eight Taranaki iwi viewed the mountain as their ancestor and collaboration was key to achieving a pest-free goal for the national park. "So we can enjoy the bird song on Mt Taranaki, because sadly today it is silent," he said.  Tuuta said the project was an ambitious but necessary vision to safeguard Taranaki's ecology for future generations. The first stage of the mounga project was spearheaded by DOC with a non-toxic bait drop last week to draw predators to the area before the poisonous 1080 can be dropped in the same area.  This year's 1080 drop will be the last of DOC's six-yearly drops in the park before it moves to dropping the toxin every three years at half the dosage.  JEREMY WILKINSON

lets here it for rats
Let’s hear it for rats   It’s time to abandon our weird fear of these spectacular creatures   ‘I really, really hate rats,’ Sir David Attenborough has boasted. ‘If a rat appears in a room, I have to work hard to prevent myself from jumping on the nearest table.’ But why? Sir David’s answers are disappointingly feeble. A rat had once run across his bed. They live in sewers. They show no fear and ‘invade the area where you think you are boss’. It is odd that a naturalist can hate an animal for simply doing what animals do — survive — and rather better than most. But almost everything about how humans view rats is illogical. Any social historian looking to prove that an ounce of primitive emotion will outweigh a pound of rational thought should study our creepy rat phobia, as unchanging down the years as it is unthinking. Rats are a miracle of evolution —resourceful, intelligent and generally fascinating. And yet they are loathed more than any other animal on earth. Our attitude is strangely medieval, and we’re proud of it. Even the kindest, most reasonable of people will cheerfully brag of their prejudice. A regular stand-by for tabloids is a story about ‘super rats’, invariably illustrated with a false-perspective photograph. Recently, the Guardian devoted its ‘Big Read’ spot to ‘Man vs Rats’, describing the animals as ‘our perfect nightmare’. There is nothing new in this madness. The French biologist Léon Calmette, in his 1904 paper Declarons la guerre aux rats, announced that if rats weren’t exterminated, they’d bring about the end of humanity. They appear in villainous roles in literature, notably crawling all over the works of Orwell. ‘Of all the horrors in the world – a rat!’ gasps Winston Smith in Nineteen Eighty-Four. A famous New Yorker piece called ‘The Rats on the Waterfront’, written in 1944 by Joseph Mitchell, listed the usual hysterical claims: rats kill babies, try to eat vagrants, bite the necks of chickens out of a sheer lust for killing. Apparently, they also ‘snarl’. (Snarl?) According to other reports, there are no limits to a rat’s sins. One claims they are so sex-obsessed that they will mate with a corpse; another that they are motivated by greed and hedonism. A rat-catcher in Morgan Spurlock’s new documentary Rats swears they can read the warning signs on packets of poison. Yet the more I have seen of these astonishing animals, the more I have come to admire them. When I was small, my brother had a pet rat called Whiskers that he kept inside his shirt. It was loyal; when placed on a table and surrounded by humans, Whiskers would sniff everybody’s hands before running up his master’s arm. Years later, my son Xan had a similarly endearing rat called Jaboa. For its last night on earth — it contracted respiratory disease, a common problem among pet rats — it slept on my bed. I see wild rats several times a week and occasionally, when their presence around our hen-house becomes a problem, have to kill them with the help of my brilliant ratting dog (a more humane method than poison or an air-gun in my experience). I admire them, even as enemies. Their reaction when cornered is not to run or attack, but to freeze and try to make themselves invisible. They are lithe, good jumpers and superb swimmers. I am impressed by how they use anything and everything to survive, gaining sustenance from gnawing on old bones, plastic or the glue on books, adapting to whatever a hostile environment throws at them. Such is my fascination, and the irrational fear that rats engender, that I wrote a novel called The Twyning, set in 19th-century London, in which rats are the heroes while humans, except for two abandoned teenage children, are the aggressors. From a position of bias, I think my epic tale — I envisaged it as a ratty War and Peace — would make a more interesting film than Spurlock’s gross-out documentary, which Variety magazine described as a ‘grisly marathon of murder’, pointing out that every trick in the book is used to quicken viewers’ disgust for its subject. Of course, in parts of the world, rats are a menace, eating food humans grow for themselves, causing environmental damage and spreading disease. But none of that explains our paranoiac fear. There is, after all, so much to admire. In a recent experiment, scientists at the University of Chicago discovered that, like humans and intelligent apes, rats have empathy. Given the choice between a chocolate treat and freeing another caged rat — one it has never seen before, incidentally — a lab rat will choose the noble path. Perhaps behind our sinister hatred there lies an uncomfortable truth. Rats are clever and exploit the world around them for their own ends. They are competitive with other species. They are highly sexed and mate all year round. Remind you of anyone? Terence Blacker

pest control north shore rats
It is not the sort of animal that is usually encouraged to thrive on the streets of Southampton. But the authorities are having to wage a war against an infestation of rats in a Southampton community after a local resident has taken to feeding the rodents. Such is his fondness for looking after the animals, he has been dubbed ‘Ratman’ by locals. He has been seen leaving food around the streets and has also been spotted buying up to 20kg bags of wheat, which has been recovered from the rats’ burrows around the Highfield area where the infestation has taken hold. As a result of public health concerns, it is understood the man has been handed a Community Protection Notice in a bid to stop him encouraging the rats. The notice, which is similar to an anti-social behaviour order, means he faces being fined if he doesn’t stop feeding them. Such is the scale of the problem it has led to Highfield Church graveyard being closed to the public. Residents have also been advised to keep their pets indoors as a wide-scale pest control operation, which includes laying poison, has been launched. Rodent specialists will spend the next six weeks putting poison down burrows in order to establish the extent of the network, after previous attempts at getting rid of the rodents failed. Dogs have been used to hunt them down, whilst pest controllers have also used burrow baiting and attempted to cull the rodents. Now a mass programme of laying down poison has begun, with pest controllers warning it could take up to two months to get the problem under control. Southampton city council’s pest control manager Justin Crow said there is ‘an abundance’ of rats in the area centred on the edge of the Common around Highfield. He said: “It’s a difficult situation but it’s got to be resolved. It’s a public health concern and has just got so desperate. “We’ve tried everything from culls to terriers but they don’t achieve a lot – it’s poisoning that will get rid of them. The rats are destroying the ecology of the area.” Pest control have alerted tree surgeons to the problem, as the extensive burrows made by the vermin could damage tree roots making them dangerous. Wardens at the busy Highfield Church – next door to Highfield Church of England Primary School – have closed the churchyard to prevent people using it as a shortcut whilst the pest control programme is underway. The Furzedown Road area of the Common is said to be the worst affected, with extensive undergrowth affording ‘harbourage’ for the rodent population, whilst the network is thought to spread as far as Burgess Road and beyond, with evidence of rats also at Woodmill. According to pest control, the problem in the area is as a result of food being left out for the rats intentionally by the local resident. Rashers of bacon have been seen strewn on pavements whilst he has been seen leaving bird seed near their burrows. One residents, who asked not to be named, said: “It is just awful; it is thanks to him that we now have pest control on our doorsteps. It is disgusting the food he leaves all over the place. No wonder they are thriving.” Furzedown Road resident Clare Mar-Molinero said the rats have even got bigger in size. She said: “It’s been significantly worse this year... they do seem to be bigger. My cats can’t get hold of them - only the smaller ones. “All of our fruit was stolen from the fruit trees in the garden – all our plums, figs and peaches are gone and it can only be rats. I want my garden back now!” by dailyecho

rat exterminator north shore
First, the myths. There are no “super rats”. Apart from a specific subtropical breed, they do not get much bigger than 20 inches long, including the tail. They are not blind, nor are they afraid of cats. They do not carry rabies. They do not, as was reported in 1969 regarding an island in Indonesia, fall from the sky. Their communities are not led by elusive, giant “king rats”. Rat skeletons cannot liquefy and reconstitute at will. (For some otherwise rational people, this is a genuine concern.) They are not indestructible, and there are not as many of them as we think. The one-rat-per-human in New York City estimate is pure fiction. Consider this the good news. In most other respects, “the rat problem”, as it has come to be known, is a perfect nightmare. Wherever humans go, rats follow, forming shadow cities under our metropolises and hollows beneath our farmlands. They thrive in our squalor, making homes of our sewers, abandoned alleys, and neglected parks. They poison food, bite babies, undermine buildings, spread disease, decimate crop yields, and very occasionally eat people alive. A male and female left to their own devices for one year – the average lifespan of a city rat – can beget 15,000 descendants. There may be no “king rat”, but there are “rat kings”, groups of up to 30 rats whose tails have knotted together to form one giant, swirling mass. Rats may be unable to liquefy their bones to slide under doors, but they don’t need to: their skeletons are so flexible that they can squeeze their way through any hole or crack wider than half an inch. They are cannibals, and they sometimes laugh (sort of) – especially when tickled. They can appear en masse, as if from nowhere, moving as fast as seven feet per second. They do not carry rabies, but a 2014 study from Columbia University found that the average New York City subway rat carried 18 viruses previously unknown to science, along with dozens of familiar, dangerous pathogens, such as C difficile andhepatitis C. As recently as 1994 there was a major recurrence of bubonic plague in India, an unpleasant flashback to the 14th century, when that rat-borne illness killed 25 million people in five years. Collectively, rats are responsible for more human death than any other mammal on earth. Humans have a peculiar talent for exterminating other species. In the case of rats, we have been pursuing their total demise for centuries. We have invented elaborate, gruesome traps. We have trained dogs, ferrets, and cats to kill them. We have invented ultrasonic machines to drive them away with high-pitched noise. (Those machines, still popular, do not work.) We have poisoned them in their millions. In 1930, faced with a rat infestation on Rikers Island, New York City officials flushed the area with mustard gas. In the late 1940s, scientists developed anticoagulants to treat thrombosis in humans, and some years later supertoxic versions of the drugs were developed in order to kill rats by making them bleed to death from the inside after a single dose. Cityscapes and farmlands were drenched with thousands of tons of these chemicals. During the 1970s, we used DDT. These days, rat poison is not just sown in the earth by the truckload, it is rained from helicopters that track the rats with radar – in 2011 80 metric tonnes of poison-laced bait were dumped on to Henderson Island, home to one of the last untouched coral reefs in the South Pacific. In 2010, Chicago officials went “natural”: figuring a natural predator might track and kill rats, they released 60 coyotes wearing radio collars on to the city streets. How is it that we can send robots to Mars and yet remain unable to keep rats from threatening our food supplies? Still, here they are. According to Bobby Corrigan, the world’s leading expert on rodent control, many of the world’s great cities remain totally overcome. “In New York – we’re losing that war in a big way,” he told me. Combat metaphors have become a central feature of rat conversation among pest control professionals. In Robert Sullivan’s 2014 book Rats, he described humanity’s relationship with the species as an “unending and brutish war”, a battle we seem always, always to lose. Why? How is it that we can send robots to Mars, build the internet, keep alive infants born so early that their skin isn’t even fully made – and yet remain unable to keep rats from threatening our food supplies, biting our babies, and appearing in our toilet bowls? frankly, rodents are the most successful species,” Loretta Mayer told me recently. “After the next holocaust, rats and Twinkies will be the only things left.” Mayer is a biologist, and she contends that the rat problem is actually a human problem, a result of our foolish choices and failures of imagination. In 2007, she co-founded SenesTech, a biotech startup that offers the promise of an armistice in a conflict that has lasted thousands of years. The concept is simple: rat birth control The rat’s primary survival skill, as a species, is its unnerving rate of reproduction. Female rats ovulate every four days, copulate dozens of times a day and remain fertile until they die. (Like humans, they have sex for pleasure as well as for procreation.) This is how you go from two to 15,000 in a single year. When poison or traps thin out a population, they mate faster until their numbers regenerate. Conversely, if you can keep them from mating, colonies collapse in weeks and do not rebound. Solving the rat problem by putting them on the pill sounds ridiculous. Until recently no pharmaceutical product existed that could make rats infertile, and even if it had, there was still the question of how it could be administered. But if such a thing were to work, the impact could be historic. Rats would die off without the need for poison, radar or coyotes. SenesTech, which is based in Flagstaff, Arizona, claims to have created a liquid that will do exactly that. In tests conducted in Indonesian rice fields, South Carolina pig farms, the suburbs of Boston and the New York City subway, the product, called ContraPest, caused a drop in rat populations of roughly 40% in 12 weeks. This autumn, for the first time, the company is making ContraPest available to commercial markets in the US and Europe. The team at SenesTech believes it could be the first meaningful advance in the fight against rats in a hundred years, and the first viable alternative to poison. Mayer was blunt about the implications: “This will change the world.” Mayer is a tall, vigorous woman in her mid-60s with bright eyes, spiky grey hair and a toothy grin. Her ideologies of choice are Buddhism and the Girl Scouts. “It’s kind of my core,” she said of the latter, “to do for others.” In conversation, her manner is so upbeat that she seems to be holding forth radiantly before an audience or on the verge of bursting into song. When asked how she is doing, she frequently responds in a near-rapture: “If I was any better, I’d be a twin!” – she also appears to enjoy watching people wonder whether this is an expression they should know. When I took a seat in her office earlier this year, she clapped her hands triumphantly and said “Ooh! You’re sitting in history and strength!” There was a pause. “I had a feng shui person come and do my office,” she explained.  by Jordan Kisner