Children’s health before rats’ welfare, Jo’burg tells NSPCA

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) is furious at the way rats are being beaten to death in Johannesburg’s rodent eradication campaign.

But the city says the “noise” of people who “live in suburbs” cannot take precedence over the welfare of children in townships who are bitten by rats in their own homes.

The City of Jo’burg has embarked on a rodent eradication drive in four major townships. While exterminating vermin is a big part of the project, the campaign mainly focuses on encouraging people to keep their communities shipshape.

At the beginning of August, the City of Johannesburg started its 90-day campaign to get rid of vermin in the “hot spot areas” of Orange Farm, Ivory Park, Alexandra and Orlando East.

The NSPCA’s special projects inspector, Nicolette Armansin, said the society understood that the growing rat problem in the townships had to be addressed, but rodents should be killed in a humane way.

“The NSPCA is not opposed to the euthanasia of the rodents or the aim of the programme, but … euthanasia — a painless death — is exactly what it should be,” added Armansin.

Residents in Orlando East told the Mail and Guardian that rats crawl into their shacks at night, raid their food, ravage their clothes and even bite their children.

One man said he kept the lights in his house on all night so that the rats would stay away, but this meant he struggled to sleep.

Rats are quite literally a growing problem, the City of Johannesburg’s operations manager for environmental health Nicky Mazibuko told the Mail and Guardian — they keep getting bigger and bigger.

He said the rats eat shack dwellers’ food and even destroy the wiring in cars.

Much of the city’s campaign is aimed at educating residents about keeping their yards free of litter and scraps of food. Mazibuko said that dumping of rubbish in open spaces and old machinery lying in yards attracted the rodents from the veld.

Residents were pleased that the city arrived to gas rats when the vector control operators or rat killers arrived in the Orlando East on Tuesday.

The vector control operators, as they are officially known, use a machine that sprays carbon monoxide down rat burrows to gas rats. When the drowsy rats try to escape, men waiting with sticks in hand beat the rats to death.

The NSPCA watched the operations on Wednesday and stopped the men beating the rats but the gassing of the rats continued, according to Armansin.

She said the organisation had examined the rat carcasses to see if they had died from being beaten or from the gas.

The NSPCA was particularly upset that unweaned rats called “pinkies” were often left to die once their mothers had been killed or placed in plastic bags and thrown on a rubbish heap. Instead, on Wednesday the NSPCA euthanased the baby rodents.

The society also said it aims to load footage of City of Johannesburg workers beating rats onto its website. It said some of the instruments used to hit the rats broke on the rats’ bodies.

City of Johannesburg spokesperson Nkosinathi Nkabinde said that the “rat infestation in the City of Johannesburg is a serious problem” that occurred “mainly in poorer areas of the city. The communities have repeatedly complained about rats and in some cases the rodents are even causing illness by biting people.”

The city has indicated that it is willing to meet with the NSPCA, Nkabinde said. The NSPCA denied this and said they had been trying to meet with officials since August 3.

Nkabinde continued, “We cannot pay greater attention to the welfare of rodents above children who live in shacks and are bitten by the rats, or listen to people who make a noise but live in the suburbs. We will continue with the campaign.”

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