Vancouver is a rat-friendly environment too. “Wherever you find water, you’ll find rats”
April 24th 2020 - Pest Desk Media Team
Posted on TheTyee.ca - Steve Burgess
We share our neighbourhoods with a variety of creatures that have become habituated to human contact, including soggy human fries and stale human bagels. While pandemic assistance programs have been put in place for many of us — subsidies, rent rebates, emergency funds — the pigeon economy must surely be imploding. How is urban wildlife affected by the absence of restaurant garbage and scraps? Might we see population crashes among big city birds and animals?
According to UBC’s Edward Kroc, the birds at least should be fine. “I’m pretty skeptical that any populations will noticeably decline due to the lack of human activity in and around the city,” says Kroc, an assistant professor in the Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology and Special Education. “In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a mild bump upwards for some species.”
And what about rats? “Hungry rats are going to do whatever they have to do,” The Tyee quoted a New York rodent expert in a recent story. “Once the food goes away, then all bets are off as to how mammals are going to behave.” While the diets of most urban rats are 80 per cent vegetarian, a hangry rat has “been known to snatch hatchlings from the nests of songbirds or stalk pigeons and attack from behind.”
The bigger the city, the meaner the streets. And this month in New York, the rat race is getting very real. News reports have said desperate rodents accustomed to restaurant garbage are now turning to cannibalism and vicious turf battles.
Is the clash coming here? Mike Londry has seen a lot of rattus norvegicus in his ten years running Westside Pest Control. (The gnarly-looking Norwegian rat, Londry says, has largely taken over from rattus rattus, the somewhat cuter roof rat that once ruled the roosts around here.) “We’re not the same as New York,” Londry says, pointing out that the lack of alleys in New York means restaurant garbage is bagged on the streets, making them rat heaven. But with its abundance of waterfront, Vancouver is a rat-friendly environment too. “Wherever you find water, you’ll find rats,” he says.
And rats that have been living by the water or in residential areas might find themselves facing new competition from roving rats that had been feasting on restaurant dumpsters. The resulting rat vs. rat battles could even do Londry’s job for him. “Rats might reduce the rat population,” he says. “In the past three weeks our rat calls have diminished by about 43 per cent.”
That may reflect a change in the firm’s advertising as Westside Pest Control has begun emphasizing ant and wasp control (easier to do while maintaining social distancing). But it could mean that the rats are turning on each other. “They’ll kill each other,” Londry says. “Rats have no problem with that.”
Dr. Benson-Amram says larger mammals, too, are likely to roam beyond their usual comfort zones in search of a morsel. “It is highly likely that individuals with specific sources of human food within their home range are having a more difficult time if those food sources are no longer available,” she says, “and this can increase competition between individuals for the sources that remain accessible.”
There is currently a lot of focus on transmission of disease from animals to humans — bats being the villains of the moment — but transmission happens the other way too. It’s not so much that animals catch flu or the sniffles from us, but from our pets. Canine distemper has devastated Vancouver animal populations in the past, crashing populations of raccoons and skunks. “We see frequent fluctuations of populations of urban wildlife due to diseases, such as distemper,” Benson-Amram says. “These can be quite devastating in the short term, but urban wildlife populations often rebound over the long term.”
This spring may prove to be an interesting period of observation for urban ornithologists. “Here in the Lower Mainland, I am very curious to see what happens throughout this year’s breeding season which is just starting,” Kroc says. “I would guess that less human disturbance will lead to higher reproductive success rates for many species — for example, tree, shrub, and ground-nesters that would otherwise be disturbed by people. Decreased automobile traffic also means there will probably be fewer road fatalities of unfledged chicks.”
Original article published here
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