In the fiercely competitive environment in which man lives with thousands of other species of living creatures, accessibility to food is critical for survival. Though man thinks himself to be endowed with super intelligence and extraordinary skills to elbow out other co-inhabitants in this planet, the predators for food grown by man seems to have the final laugh! With great pride man created deadly poisons in the form of pesticides to keep away the predators which constantly try to snatch them for their own survival but in the end these lethal chemicals have turned their fangs against humanity itself. In to day's world pesticide is a dirty word and every human being wants food not contaminated by these chemicals because of concerns for the safety of their own lives. The birth of organic food industry is a standing testimony to the failure of man in controlling pests using synthetically produced chemical entities.
Rats belong to a sturdy group of rodents which infest both the agricultural fields and house holds for obtaining their food needs. While field rats, comparatively large in size live in burrows made using their sharp claws, domestic rats live in the vicinity of human habitats, either inside or in the surrounding areas. Both of them are nocturnal animals, active after the sun set, most of their raiding done under cover of darkness. Catching rat or eliminating their nuisance is an age old practice but in spite of newer technologies and more deadly chemicals developed over the years, rat species refuse to be cowed down by man and their marauding activities continue with immunity. It is amusing to read the recent news that Americans were not able to eradicate rats in the Rat Island in Alaska which was colonized by the rats 229 years ago after a Japanese ship wreck brought them ashore there in 1880! Tons of rat poisons dumped from the air killed all other forms of life but no one knows still whether the rats have been eliminated completely.
Rats usually litter 6-7 times an year and give birth to 6-12 off springs at a time. A pair of heterosexual rats can multiply to a population of more than 1000 to 1500 rats in one year if unchecked. Since they are voracious eaters, they feed every thirty minutes and drop their excreta following the eating sessions. According to some estimates 5 rats can eat food that is sufficient for one person and one can imagine the quantity of food 'stolen' by them where ever they are present. Most of the food grains lost to rodents take place in rural areas where food grains are not stored properly. Warehouses where food grains are stored are happy hunting grounds for the rats. Being very agile climbers, they can climb trees, buildings and other structures easily. Though their eyesight is very poor, this is more than made up by their keen sense of hearing, smell, taste and touch. They can gain entry even if the gap in the doors is less than half inch and can travel about 300 ft in search of food.
Rats cause many diseases since they are the carriers of the causative agents. Murine typhus, leptospirosis, trichinosis, salmonellosis, ratbite fever and plague are spread by rats. Bandicoots which make agricultural fields their operating sphere live in burrows made by them with their sharp claws. Since they cause extensive damage to food crops, farmers take many steps to drive them out of their vicinity but their travel prowess enable them to move to safer places up to 10 km away and return once the farmer lowers his guard! Such localized drives make the matters worse because of spread of many diseases caused by them to newer localities. They can be curbed only if eradication programs are taken in a holistic way extending over large areas. Herds of bandicoots are known to move from less safer areas to more friendly environment in the night preempting any organized attempt to destroy them. Trapping using baits, use of glue boards, deploying toxic baits using chemicals like warfarin, chlorophacinone, bromodiolone, difethialone, bromethalin, cholecalciferol and zinc sulfide and killing by electrocution are commonly available means of controlling rat population. Unfortunately man has not been able to develop yet an efficient rat repellent that can at least help house wives to avoid depredations by these 'invincible ' cute looking creatures.
Considering that the rat population in India is estimated at about 5 billion, there was even an attempt to use them as resources for leather production a few years ago. Quality wise rat leather is reasonably good and can be used for making smaller articles. But logistics of catching them can be nightmarish and the viability of such a project was not considered attractive. The 1899 plague epidemic in Osaka, Japan made the civic authorities there to launch a program for catching rats for a price and the people there responded magnificently by catching more than16.8 lakh in 5 years! There was no report whether the rats so caught were processed for leather. Probably GOI can consider such a scheme for rural areas where unemployed and under employed youths can be involved in tackling the rat problem through financial incentives and utilizing the rats so caught for value added products.