The US is the cradle of consumption and, therefore, of waste, and waste offers rats a picturesque setting for their raids. If we add the high temperatures, which overheat the garbage bags exposed for hours on the sidewalks, it is not strange to come across several of these vermin every day on any street, the largest shadow population in New York. Their ubiquity in the city has reached worrying extremes for public health: they invade playgrounds, the paths of Central Park, where it is difficult to distinguish them from squirrels, and, as a video that went viral on social networks showed just two weeks ago , the enclosures of games for dogs. In the video, a group of dogs play happily with something similar to a ball, pushing it with their paws and throwing it into the air several times, until the bundle falls and stampedes away. It was a giant sized rat.
The pandemic had a lot to do not only with the proliferation of rodents in the streets, but with their defiance, to the point that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, its English acronym; federal agency) launched in 2020 a warning about its potential aggressiveness. Deprived of leftover food from restaurants, closed due to confinement at the start of the pandemic, the rats emerged more to the surface, creating problems for the owners of the premises who raised floors on the sidewalk or the road to continue operating. The proliferation of terraces -vital for the survival of the restoration sector- and the reactivation of the construction sector, which often deprives entire populations of these critters of shelter, have aggravated the problem. Restlessness is increased by heat, and some local media do not hesitate to talk about the city’s losing battle against ratswhen the Big Apple tries to offer its most attractive image to recover the pulse and, incidentally, tourism.
“Without a doubt the revival of the construction industry has had a lot to do with this invasion,” said Mark Levine, president of the district of Manhattan, on May 27. That day, the Town Planning Councilman introduced a bill that requires building permit applicants to hire a pest control professional for their project. “I have never seen so many rats in my life,” declared the councilman. “They run over our feet, to the side as we walk, they climb into the garbage containers…”. “This is beyond aesthetics. We have rats that get into car engines and eat the wires. There are rats that enter homes. And they also transmit diseases,” added Levine, who co-sponsors the measure. Last year, fifteen cases of leptospirosis were diagnosed, one of them fatal.
The invasion of rats is not something new. In 2014, the Big Apple received the title of “worst city in the world” for the number of rodents. It is also called the Pestepolis of the USA. So the phone number of the exterminator -nothing to do with Buñuel’s- is a regular contact in the agendas of New Yorkers. But not even pest control specialists manage to curb a wild population that seems, at times, to dominate public space, not just the subway, one of its traditional habitats. The residual effect of the pandemic could not be more unpleasant.
“Rats have taken up residence in the engine of my old Subaru and have left a trail of droppings and stench. I don’t know where I can clean the engine, because if it’s already difficult to remove them from the streets, imagine from the inside of a hood. The problem is out of control, especially around restaurant terraces, they are a magnet for them”, explains Richard Gehr, a resident of the Upper West Side. “In my street there is a plague. I think they nest in an empty building. Just last night there were about a dozen by my front door. I have informed the City Council and asked the community of neighbors to address the issue, to put pressure, because I have not seen anything worse in the 25 years I have been living here, ”Joanne, who lives near Central Park, complained this week.
Home made recepies
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While in community social networks neighbors exchange homemade recipes to drive them away from their properties (such as mint pots or coffee grounds, due to the smell), rat sightings in the first five months of 2022 reached the highest figure since 2010, when the city began recording rodent complaints. Complaints to the municipal helpline have increased by more than 70% since 2020, according to data from the City Council. A much-hyped miracle solution just three years ago – a trap shaped like a designer filing cabinet, baited with Oreo (sic) cookies – has also been overtaken by the gnawing avalanche. Eric Adams, the mayor, praised the solvency of the aforementioned mill in 2019, when he presided over the Brooklyn district, but it is unknown if he still finds it effective against the ongoing offensive. The Department of Sanitation has not responded to this newspaper’s request for comment, while a commercial for a pest control business located north of Manhattan reluctantly replies: “Rat poison is prohibited, there are other methods.” .
So the almost full economic recovery also has its drawbacks. While the mayor reiterates over and over again that full activity must be returned to areas that are still idling – in the financial district of Manhattan only 38% of employees have returned to the office, and only 8%, the five days of the week-, and betting on tourism to relaunch the economy -unemployment in the city doubles the national rate- these little brown beasts tarnish the apparent glamor of what for many is the city of cities. Also, apparently, for rats.