New York tops cities vulnerable to rat attacks

NEW YORK Thu Oct 4, 2007 12:06pm EDT

The United Nations headquarters can be seen near the skyline of New York September 16, 2007. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

The United Nations headquarters can be seen near the skyline of New York September 16, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - New York was named on Thursday as the U.S. city most vulnerable to a rat attack as warmer weather and aging infrastructure fuels rodent populations across the United States.

Rodent experts Dale Kaukeinen and Bruce Colvin have developed a way to assess the rat problem in different areas by looking at 14 risks factors such as the age of infrastructure, population size, climate, and waste management.

The rodent management consultants, who have worked with rats for about 30 years and call themselves the "rat pack," found New York with its large population and human density was most at risk of a rat attack followed by Houston and Boston.

"This isn't a top 10 list you want to be on but in many cities rodents are doing very well today," Kaukeinen told Reuters.

"We've recently had news of tragic cases of children being bitten by rats, plague in places like Denver, and rats rampaging about in New York restaurants."

Other cities in the top 10 of the list of 32 major municipal areas were Louisville in Kentucky, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington D.C., Chicago, El Paso in Texas, and Milwaukee.

Kaukeinen said rat populations had flourished in the 1990s as metropolitan areas grew by nearly 10 percent, according to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, and as spending on combating rodents declined.

He said it was impossible to estimate how many rats there were in each city despite urban myths that there are about six rats to every human in New York, where the sight of a rat scuttling across a station platform or street is commonplace.

New Yorkers squirmed earlier this year when photographs of rats running wild at night in a Manhattan branch of Mexican chain restaurant KFC/Taco Bell were published widely, prompting the review and closure of numerous city restaurants.

"But we know that a female rat can have a litter every three weeks of 10 to 12 young, so even with mortalities you probably get 50 new rats a year from one female," he said.

"If half of those are female you can see that if you have a garbage strike the rat population will explode. Cities are so vulnerable and need to give this priority."

Kaukeinen said the 2007 Rodent Risk Assessment, which was sponsored by rodent control brand d-CON, would be used to urge cities to spend more on taking a pro-active approach against rats.

"There are no boundaries here. We are talking about suburbs, small towns, farms, schools, everywhere that might provide food water and shelter," he said.

"I have a lot of respect for rats. They are a formidable animal and it is a challenge to keep up with them."

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