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Is the War on Rats a Failure?

Maybe no other animal is as hated or as resourceful as the lowly rat. Humanity lives in antagonistic coexistence with rats; we keep coming up with new ways to kill them, and they adapt to whatever we throw at them. In order to develop a deeper understanding of the fight, The Verge’s Josh Dzieza rode along with the some of the generals in the world’s war on rats. He found that, in New York at least, rats will never be eradicated.

In stark contrast to the wide open, vigilantly patrolled spaces of Alberta, Canada, which Dzieza calls “the largest inhabited rat-free region on Earth,” New York City is already too overrun and structurally too hospitable. It’s a rat’s paradise: lots of tiny, tight places to hide, too many densely packed people to launch an effective poison campaign, and an endlessly replenishing food supply. “New York City is ratropolis because it’s trashopolis,” says New York’s foremost rodent scientist Bobby Corrigan. Rats are so hearty, Dzieza writes, that when statues in parks are tilting, it’s probably because there’s a big rat burrow underneath.

The Department of Health’s program to target and destroy “rat reservoirs” is a step in the right direction, as is the more focused effort to contain trash to cut off the food supply. But rats are endlessly clever, adaptable, and resilient. They can’t all be killed, and so there will always be more to take their place. “The problem is they want our space as much as we do,” Corrigan told Dzieza, so we have to keep coexisting.

(Photo: Walt Jabsco)