They crawled to the surface as the coronavirus pandemic roamed New York City, roaming the open air from underground nests, feasting on a smorgasbord of scraps in streets, parks and curbside garbage mounds. As diners stopped going indoors for outdoor food, so did the city rats.
City data now shows there have been more sightings than have been seen in a decade.
During April, people saw about 7,400 rats on the city’s 311 service request line. This is up from about 6,150 during the same period last year, and more than 60% from the first four months of 2019, higher than the previous pre-pandemic year.
In each of the first four months of 2022, the number of sightings was the highest recorded since at least 2010, the first year records are available online. By comparison, there were about 10,500 sightings throughout 2010 and 25,000 such reports in all of the previous year (the most frequent visits were during the summer months).
Whether the rat population has increased is up for debate, but the pandemic has made the situation more visible.
As the temperature rises as more people spend time outside, will the rat’s vision increase further?
“It depends on how much food is available to them and where,” said Matt Fry, a pest management specialist for New York State based at Cornell University.
While a return to pre-pandemic routine is “exciting after two years of COVID-imposed lifestyle changes,” Fry said in an email, “it means business as usual for rat problems that are directly related to human behavior.” joined.”
Rats have been a problem since the inception of New York City. Every new generation of leaders has tried to find a better way to control rodent populations, and the results have struggled to show.
When Mayor Eric Adams was Brooklyn’s borough president, he angered animal rights activists—and upset the stomachs of some journalists—by demonstrating a trap that contained a vinegar, to drown rats tempted by the smell of food. A bucket full of poisonous soup was used.
Former Mayor Bill de Blasio spent tens of millions of dollars on efforts to reduce rat populations in targeted neighborhoods with more frequent garbage pickup, more aggressive housing inspections, and replacing dirt basement floors in some apartment buildings made of concrete. Did it
The city even started a program to use dry ice to suffocate rats in their burrows, once demonstrating the technique to journalists at an event where workers chased – but never caught – fugitive critters. one of.
During a recent news conference in Times Square, Adams announced the city’s latest effort: padlocked curbside trash cans intended to reduce the massive piles of garbage bags that turn into buffets for rodents.
“You’re tired of rodents, you’re tired of smells, you’re tired of seeing food, waste and leaks,” said the mayor.
Rats not only easily create fear among screamers, but they can also be a public health concern.
Last year, at least 13 people were hospitalized – one died – due to leptospirosis, a condition that attacks the kidneys and liver. Most human infections are associated with mice.
As some cities consider making outdoor food sustainable—a choice born out of necessity during the pandemic—they are alert to a further swell of rat populations. Even before the pandemic, experts observed an increase in rat populations in some of the country’s largest cities.
According to rat scholars, rats can survive on less than an ounce of food a day and rarely travel more than a city block to find food.
Some restaurants in New York City built curbside sheds to allow COVID-conscious eaters to eat outside. But the unfinished food left on the table has sometimes drawn brazen four-legged leftover bandits—a la Pizza Rat, which gained fame in 2015 after a video went viral in which the rodent was seen tossing a piece of pizza into the subway. was shown being pulled down a flight of stairs (the debate raged at the time about whether the video was staged).
As fewer people used the subway, there were fewer morsels to feast on in the tunnels.
“What happened during the pandemic was that your restaurants closed,” said Richard Reynolds, whose rat-hunting group has taken teams of dogs to sniff and kill from time to time over the years. “When outside food came along, there was food again.”
In the planter box outside the dining shed, rats lie down waiting for any fallen pieces. They are ready to lurk in stormwater drains.
It’s the stuff of nightmares for Brooklyn resident Dylan Viner, who recently accidentally hit a dead rat with his bicycle. In recent months, he and his friends have observed an increase in the number of rats in the open.
“I have always had a phobia of rats. I don’t think about snakes or insects – but rats, there is something about them,” said Viner, a London transplant who likes to keep his distance from insects. “It is okay to see them around metro tracks. This is what happens when you see one jumping in front of you and going from the trash to the dumpster or restaurant…
He recalled a recent walk in the West Village, where a stride landed on a creature.
“I screamed and ran,” he said. The mouse might have cried too.
“Mine was so loud,” he said, “it’s hard to know whether it was mine or a mouse.”