Plague of rats haunts east Jo'burg

A plague of rats that is haunting the east of Johannesburg is being combated by the Ekurhuleni department of health and environment.

Between April 2004 and September 2005 more than 75 000 rats, some weighing up to half a kilogram, have been captured and killed.

Director Jerry Chaka on Thursday said this was part of their holistic approach to dealing with the escalating number of rats roaming the area, but that they were only scratching the surface.

The municipality gives out more than a 1 000 cages to residents on a daily basis in order to catch the rodents. Residents will put bait, which ranges from cheese to porridge, in the cages, explained Chaka.

The rat walks into a higher level of the cage (the bait is on a lower level) over a flap which bends under the weight of the rat. Once the rat is inside, the flap automatically flips back up and the rat can’t get back outside.

“Once the rats are caught, we cover the cages in plastic bags and gas them to kill them and then we bury them in refuse-dumping areas.”

Poison is not used because there is the possibility that the poison could be consumed by people in the community and then the municipality might be taken to court, said Chaka.

Brown Rats, or Rattus Norvegicus, are the largest species of rat found on the East Rand. Chaka said brown rats can weigh up to 500g and are very territorial, often killing the smaller black rats. They gnaw through everything, including cables, iron and doors.

One rat can give birth to 16 babies ten times a year and the only way to protect people from the plague is by the communities keeping their areas clean.

“What we have to do is ensure we have a clean environment so there is no food for the rats. We can do this by stopping illegal dumping, making sure people keep their yards clean from rubbish and scrap metals and encouraging hawkers not to dump food on street corners,” he said.

On Wednesday, the Sowetan reported that a 13-month-old baby was bitten to death by rodents in a shack at Madelukufa in Tembisa. The mother of the baby, Nandipha Nobaza, said she herself was once bitten “several times” by the rats.

Nobaza described the incident as horrific and said that while sleeping last Sunday at 10pm, she heard her baby screaming. She woke up and found her child lying in a pool of blood after being bitten by the rats. Chaka said they were not sure that the child’s death was caused by the rats.

“We are waiting for the post-mortem and further investigation to see if the death was caused by the rats,” said Chaka.

“Rats will lick the human body for the sake of getting salt off the body; once it continues licking, and the rat has a hard tongue, it might produce some blood. Rodents get excited when they see blood and they’ll start eating,” explained Chaka.

When asked if starving people could eat the rats, Chaka said: “If people were eating rats we wouldn’t have such a problem.”

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