Sunday, June 12, 2005

Oh Rats!

Guarding The Kill
Guarding The Kill, originally uploaded by Miloflamingo.
One of the things about feeding half a dozen parrots and four chickens properly is that there are plenty of leftovers for other animals. The sparrows around me have nominated me for sainthood, I'm sure. They are so fat it's a wonder that they can even fly. Last week I noticed an increase in the quantity of rat droppings under the parrot dishes and decided that enough was enough.

Rats are everywhere,especially out here in the country. We have three species of them to deal with and they are smart, tough, little monsters. During the day you can see the Nile Rats (Arvicanthus niloticus) running around the canals. Unlike the other rats (Rattus rattus and Rattus norwegicus)the Black Rat and the Norwegian Rat respectively, the Nile Rats are out and about in sunlight. The other two rats are imports to Egypt from India and Europe, but they've found the climate and abundance of food to be a blessing as well. About ten years ago I began breeding American Rat Terriers to hunt the rats that frequented the grain siloes in Alexandria at my husband's request. By last year we had about twenty of them split up between the hunting pack in Alexandria and my house, but my brother in law, who took over as manager of the siloes, is not a dog person to say the least and he shipped the Alex dogs to me. Hmmm. Just what I needed.

So recently there have been signs of rat activity in the bird cages and I've been puzzling over what to do. The dogs had also been digging holes around the concrete floor of the cages, in an attempt (to my weary brain) to get the chickens. But do I own Chicken Terriers? No, dummy, they are Rat Terriers and finally I slid my brain out of neutral and assembled the household garden hoses, sliding each into one of the holes around the birdcage and turning them all on full blast.

Why I hadn't thought of doing this before is beyond me, since hosing the rats for the dogs was one of the techniques used by the handlers in Alex. So Sabrine and I sat in the shade watching the water run into what must have been an enormous burrow complex for at least an hour!Litre after litre after litre poured in under the birdcages and nothing reappeared! I was really beginning to wonder when there was a flurry of excitement and the first rat poked its wet nose up into the air and was snatched by a waiting dog. A quick chomp broke its back and the rat was dropped with disinterest by the terriers who went back to watching the holes for more refugees. Koheila the Dalmation, on the other hand, found the trophy to be irrestistible and ran all over the garden with it, to Sabrine's disgust since she was collecting the bodies in a plastic bag for disposal. Morgana the Dane found the entire exercise utterly bewildering and went to sleep in the shade after sniffing around the holes for a bit.

Over the next 40 minutes we caught ten rats of varying sizes as the relentless onslaught of the water drove them into the sunlight. At the end of the hunt we had about 2 kilos of dead rats. Success! Rats were tossed, dogs were very disappointed not to have any more to hunt, and I figured that I had the problem solved. Not exactly. The next day the inroads on the left over parrot food were much less, but there were still signs that the rats were still with us. Rats! I waited about a week for the ground to dry out, not wanting to drown my garden in hunting the rodents down, and we repeated the process. There was still some residual dampness down there because the water rose much more quickly this time, and with it rose three more rats, two of which are shown in the photo with Al, who seemed to feel the need to guard the bodies.

Have I evicted my rodent squatters for good? Not a chance. Just a day after the second rat raid on the bird house, I saw a fat and sassy Nile rat run along the fence of my garden and go to ground under a short bushy palm tree in the corner. With the spiky branches reaching the ground, the bloody rat is almost untouchable and we haven't been able to find its hole yet. The dogs have been digging around the tree and one of these days we will try flooding the area to see what comes up.

In case anyone has fond memories of childhood rat pets and feels that I'm being callous and cruel, they should reflect on the fact that one breeding pair of Black Rats, if left undisturbed, can produce more than one million offspring of multiple generations in one year. Furthermore rats are carriers of wonderfully nasty diseases such as leptospirosis and plague. In fact, while checking the correct spelling for the Latin name of the Nile Rat I ran across a National Geographic article that suggests that plague may have come from ancient Egypt rather than from the far east. See

I guess that flooding the garden is going to be a regular job around here, and while the temperatures are in the 90's, it's not such a bad one. One of the interesting historical things about rats in Egypt is that the annual flood of the Nile used to do a lot to keep them under control, since they would have to leave their flooded burrows to find higher ground, leaving them prey to dogs, cats, jackals, hyenas, raptors, and snakes. Now that the Nile no longer floods, the rats have only to deal with us humans, and I guess that we aren't much of a challenge.


kenju said...

Good to know you found a solution to the current problem; now you will know how to control the rat population. I am certainly glad I don't have that problem!

khadijateri said...

We have the same problem here in Libya - our farm is full of rat holes. We'll eventually being moving out to the farm and I am dreading having to deal with having rodents for neighbours. Thanks for writing this - I will have plenty of fun with garden hoses in my future!

Denise said...

I found this very interesting, but shuddered all the way through it. I love to read what you write, it makes me miss Egypt.

rowena said...

What a fascinating post! I am not familiar with rat terriers but they sure prove to be smart and determined dogs. I'll have to check out the link that you mentioned, National Geographic has always been a favorite.

Gia-Gina said...

I love this post! It makes me miss my home, the tiny island of Guam. We had a little farm, chickens and ducks and rats too. My mom and the 5 of us (kids) used to use the hose to flood them out of their holes. Then mom would hit them on hte head with a 2 x 4. What memories!