2006_12_ratolino.jpgWho doesn't love a good story about city rats? The NY Times has a cool feature on the city's "epic battle" to reduce the rat population. Did you know that rats are "developing resistance to many of the poisons used on them"? Rats are so crafty!

So the city's approach these days is "integrated pest management," which is a preventive approach that utilizes less poison, increasing trash pickup, and sealing buildings' cracks and holes. The city did embark on an aggressive integrated pest management plan, the Rat Control Initiative, which included public education, clearing litter and debris, and offering rat-resistant trash cans, and was successful in lowering rat populations, but the program ended last December. A health department official says, "You can bring a trainload or boatload of rodenticide into the city. But as long as you have food and harborage, you’ll have rats." These days, here's what some Bureau of Pest Control Services employees do:

Michael Mills and Eric Han, both sanitarians, are putting into practice a strategy of rat surveillance, known as indexing. Using maps and property information downloaded onto tablet computers, they look for six “active rat signs”: tracks, active runs (streak marks created when rats run along walls), fresh droppings, gnawing, visible holes and “live rats seen.” (The last is, mercifully, rare.) Each characteristic is recorded on a scale of zero to three.

On a recent walk through the Bedford Park neighborhood in the Bronx, the two men pointed out relics of private efforts, like abandoned bait stations and haphazardly applied patches of concrete. Some property owners even cordon off their yards with sheet metal in a usually futile effort to prevent rats from entering.

Why the rats remain is no mystery, given the abundance of waste New Yorkers leave behind. In an alley next to an apartment building were two exposed trash cans. Inside one was an empty can of Chef Boyardee spaghetti and meatballs, with a residue of sauce.

At another building, the workers found a series of freshly dug burrows at the base of some yew bushes in a concrete, elevated planter that ran along the front. The planter was littered with paper, a discarded soda cup and other trash. A white foam food container was perched at the top of one burrow, apparently dragged there by a rat.

In the summer, City Comptroller William Thompson found that the city reacts slowly to rat complaints. And our favorite book about rats in New York is Rats by Robert Sullivan.

Photograph of Mr. Ratolino waiting for an F train by SilvaAzniv on Flickr - stuffed rats are so cute!