Rats have cohabited with humans for thousands of years, but these elusive and sometimes aggressive animals are perhaps best known for the potential health risks they pose. Infamously, rodents spread the “Black Death” that gripped Europe in the 14th century, wiping out a third of the people in Europe. Centuries later, however, rats can still carry infections such as salmonella and leptospirosis. They are everywhere in urban areas; and thanks to the way humans have populated the city, public hygiene measures and the type of weather, New York has been shown to be an ideal place for rat populations to thrive. Some cities have even seemed to resign themselves to the fact that living without rats is an impossible dream. As Castle Island, Boston preservationist Bill Spain has said of the local area’s rat infestation, “We need a Pied Piper.” Read on to discover ten of the most rat-infested cities in the western world.
10. Detroit, Michigan – USA
In July 2012 the Detroit Free Press reported that extermination companies were reporting a rise in the rat population in urban Detroit, with human behavior – particularly carelessness when it comes to household maintenance and storage of trash – pinpointed as the main cause. Implementing rat control measures and citizen education are ongoing, but some parts of the city are considering other radical ideas. In early 2013 the suburban city St. Clair Shores, in the Metro Detroit area, proposed a bounty program whereby homeowners can earn $5 for each rat that they kill. The program met with opposition from some locals, who thought that the money could have been better spent. However, this controversial solution is apparently just one part of a larger plan to manage the rat population in St. Clair Shores. Awareness campaigns and investment in more secure trashcans have also been put forward as possible answers.
9. Boston, Massachusetts – USA
In November 2012 rodents overran popular 22-acre Boston tourism and running spot Castle Island. And in August the same year, authorities were coming down hard on rat infestations in other parts of the city. A number of factors were thought to be responsible for the rise in rat numbers, including the relatively mild winter. High levels of garbage in one area were also listed as a reason, as well as a lack of consideration given to rat holes in the locality. In an attempt to solve the problem, the city took action. Violation notices were sent to two adjoining addresses on Haviland Street and Hemenway Street, with the owners facing potential fines as high as $300 per day should they fail to clean up their properties, and an additional $50 a day thrown in for lawn and garbage code infringements.
8. Paris – France
Paris may have an international reputation for romance and culture, but the French capital is also swarming with rats. In 2008 the Paris police’s veterinary services chief Jean-Roch Gaillet told the BBC, “Paris is good for rats because of the River Seine but there is also a lot of stagnant water which is a very nice place for rats.” As a result, the city takes annual action against the unwanted rodents – which could number up to eight million all told. Every year, the Unité de Prévention des Nuisances Animals (UPNA) undertakes an annual rat culling exercise. The situation is quite serious, with rats not only responsible for leaving feces and doing damage to buildings and their furnishings, but also for giving a chunk of the population leptospirosis. Officials have the power to level verbal cautions as well as €450 ($610) penalties against those who do not to adhere to the UPNA’s directives.
7. Chicago, Illinois – USA
Chicago’s most common rat is the brown rat, which is a species that can be traced back to Asia. The brown rat is a highly capable climber – a fact of which some Chicago denizens may be only too aware. In August 2013 North Center locals were reported to be considering moving out, as they felt overwhelmed by the constant battle against the rodents. Some residents suspected that unlicensed catering was at fault, but in 2012 a less harsh winter was blamed for the influx. Warmer weather helps rats to live longer and boosts their breeding, and the mild 2012 winter witnessed a 28 percent increase in rats being spotted plus a significant rise in calls to authorities. In view of the controversy surrounding the use of rat poison and its threat to local pets, the city’s 47th Ward has since taken a more natural approach. In 2012, working alongside the Tree House Humane Society, officials released chipped feral cats in an attempt to curb the problem, with the felines having been neutered and given shots before they were let loose.
6. Baltimore, Maryland – USA
In June 2013 Washington Post writer Karen Houppert shone a spotlight on Baltimore’s rat problem, revealing that between 2002 and 2009, rat numbers increased from less than ten of the creatures for every 1,000 local people to as many as 60 per 1,000. She also mentioned a Baltimore City Health Department report that claimed, “The rodent infestation rate in Baltimore is six times the national average.” The article was attacked by a New Republic blogger for seemingly taking glee in Baltimore’s misfortune, but the city is certainly trying to combat the issue. In April 2012 the five-year-long “Rat Attack” initiative was set up in Baltimore County to respond to complaints and inspections. By February the following year, officials had visited 2,100 houses in problem areas. As part of the program, pest control experts administered poisons into known rat holes, while trash was cleared from treated neighborhoods. Encouragingly, the measures have had success, and officials aim to maintain the momentum in other parts of the city.
5. London, England – United Kingdom
When London was awarded the honor of hosting the 2012 Summer Olympics, it was believed that the Games would boost the city’s construction and tourism industries. However, some news reports dwelt on less positive topics while preparation was underway. In 2010 the National Pest Technicians Association (NPTA) reported a 38 percent rise in London’s rat population, attributing the problem to building work, deteriorating sewers, and trash. NPTA chief executive John Davison said, “All of the world’s eyes are going to be on London, and it won’t reflect well if there is a big rodent problem.” Luckily, there was no great crisis. Still, at least one exterminator reckons there are some 7.5 million rats in the English capital. What’s more, this could be bad news for residents, as the rodents can carry salmonella and Weil’s disease, the latter of which can harm the liver and kidneys. Historically, though, rat infestation has been far more serious in the city. The notorious 1665 Great Plague of London was a bubonic plague epidemic propagated by rats that wiped out around 15 percent of Londoners at the time. In 1666 the Great Fire of London burned much of the city to the ground, and it is believed that this helped put an end to the scourge.
4. Atlanta, Georgia – USA
The city of Atlanta, Georgia is said to have the second highest rat population issue in America. The city’s heavy mortgage foreclosure problem and a rising number of poverty-stricken neighborhoods are thought to be behind the issue. In the past, flooding has also forced the animals into warmer, drier places – which could mean them entering people’s homes and other buildings to take shelter. In 2000 it was reported that rats were brought into closer proximity with the city’s locals, with construction and utility work undertaken as part of Atlanta’s growth and development having disturbed the rodents in their previous habitats. As retired local entomologist Maxcy Nolan explained, “When you disrupt the normal rodent pattern, you expose people to more rodents and the problems associated with rodents.”
3. New Orleans, Louisiana – USA
Tropical storms such as 2005’s devastating Hurricane Katrina have only exacerbated New Orleans’ rat problem. In 2006 Erick Kinchke, owner of local firm Audubon Pest Control, described the city as “a rat’s paradise.” With large areas vacated, the animals are less likely to be trapped and killed, having little need to run and hide from humans in such circumstances. According to Kinchke, the rats also had “more to eat than before the storm.” Nowadays, however, the state of Louisiana itself is being eaten away at by river rats, or nutria (pictured). Through their chomping on vegetation, the 20-pound rodents are thought to be responsible for annual erosion covering a 40-square-mile area, and this provides a smaller barrier shielding New Orleans and the regions around it from any future bursts of severe weather, prompting a new headache for state residents.
2. Houston, Texas – USA
With annual high temperatures averaging between 64°F and 91°F, Houston, Texas has an ideal climate for both black and brown rats. In 2013 a local news outlet highlighted the prevalence of black rat incidents to which pest company Critter Control was called. This species, which prefers elevated and dry conditions, can gain access to properties through tiny gaps and has the potential to cause significant damage to wires and electrics. Homeowners were advised to check their residences for holes that need blocking up and to trim nearby foliage. In 2012 a camp was set up by vagrants in the city’s Quebedeaux Park, and after being attracted by food waste, the rats eventually overran the area once the human inhabitants had been relocated. Officials reported that it was not unknown for rats to be sighted in the city center but acknowledged that the problem had to be treated seriously when the rodents made brazen appearances in daylight hours.
1. New York City – USA
Historically, New York City was populated by brown and black rats. However, since the mid-1940s the brown rat has, thanks to its greater size and aggression, driven out the black rat, dominating them when it comes to finding food and shelter and, more significantly, actively killing them in physical confrontations. As is the case in many metropolises, New York officials have found it hard to estimate the number of rats in the city; one health spokesman said, “We don’t do rat tail counts.” Still, some say that the figure could be as high as 32 million. Historically, the city has adopted a reactive stance against rat infestations – for example, by leaving poison in response to complaints. However, more recently authorities have also begun to take preventative steps – among them, geo-tagging, focusing on the structural integrity of properties, waste removal, educating city employees, and advising residents to be on the lookout for traces of the animals. In 2013 a controversial plan for widespread chemical sterilization was announced, with the program aiming to nullify rat fertility levels and curb the population growth.