Rats are bad!

by Kate Clark

I loathe rats, alive or dead. Especially after we had to take our kitten to the vet. She was bailed up by two rats twice her size and badly bitten. The kitten survived but the pain inflicted by those long fangs was distressing.

It seems the children of Mairtown Kindergarten agree with me. “Rats are bad,” they state. These proud rat trappers monitor two rat traps on Parihaka. They know every rat they catch and dispose of helps the native flora and fauna. Their traps are a small but vital step on the path to regaining native biodiversity in Whangārei city.

So, what facts support the young rat trappers’ statement. There are two species of rat in Whangārei; the ship rat and the Norway rat. Both came by ship. Like people, rats found Northland a great place to live.

Their dietary needs are well supplied with a nourishing selection including birds, chicks, eggs, flowers, fruit, seeds, snails, larvae, lizards, and wētā.  They also enjoy both quality produce and items considered rubbish throughout the city and suburbs.

2019 has been the best of years for rats. Food in the wild has been plentiful so they have grown rapidly in size and number. Our native birds and plants are under their biggest ever threat from rats.

Mairtown Kindergarten’s rat traps are part of Tiakina Whangārei’s rat trapping programme – a partnership between Northland Regional Council’s BioSecurity team and NorthTec’s Environmental Management team.

Dr Dai Morgan is a tutor within the Environmental Management team and is the highly qualified, hands-on experienced, go-to man. Full of energy and enthusiasm, he explained to me how urban areas can sustain native species. City dwellers know this to be true as many of us enjoy tūī and fantail in our gardens.

The drive behind Tiakina Whangārei is to connect and reconnect people with their local environment by having everyone mucking in. This can be from “not a lot” to big efforts. A community united through conservation, strong with kaitiakitanga, is the goal.

Each year our government sends a progress report on Biological Diversity in New Zealand to the United Nations. The latest one shows most New Zealanders love the natural environment because it makes their lives better. But only one in ten adults is actually out and about helping the environment.

The report also shows that rats are sitting in the top spot for criminals preying on native animals. “Rats are bad!”

To leave a fit for purpose environment to our mokopuna, we all must roll up our sleeves and work together on environmental projects.

“We are blessed with three significant forests that flank the city,” says Dai. “There are also fragments of forest throughout the suburbs. Everyone is literally a few minutes away from some great habitat. However, there are pests that need to be managed.”

Dai is championing the backyard trapping project. I can relate to this. Apart from the kitten attack I’ve also had them in the ceiling skittering around and chomping on the light cables. Some nights they’ve run ratty races along the fence tops driving the neighbour’s dogs barking mad. Their pre-dawn practice of sliding down our corrugated iron house roof has become annoying.

The website explains I can also expect them to raid my fruit trees (hell no!), camp out in my compost (aaargh!), or greet me in the morning munching on my cereal (moans with head in hands).

I’m on the website “signing up” when I pause. I don’t mind baiting and setting my two traps. I’ll be happy to check them, and even bust a few dance moves every time a rat is caught. But the thought of emptying the trap is freaking me out.

No matter how good my dance moves are, there’s no getting away from it. A dead rat is a dead rat. And if it is in my trap, it is my dead rat – and the job is not complete until I have taken care of its disposal. Oh, yuck!

Then the kitten, with mischief sparking in her eyes, brings me her latest kill – a screwed-up, pink post-it note – and I pull myself together.

The traps are designed for humane killing of the victim and quick removal of the body. Rubber gloves are provided in the kit that comes with the trap. If I check my traps daily, the smelly “yuck” factor will be small.

Tiakina Whangārei are linked into the nationwide TRAP.NZ project. This project totals the trapping statistics for the country. At the time of writing, 1,861 active groups have trapped 60,802 rats.

Nearly 900 were caught throughout New Zealand last week.

My mind shrieks. Well over 60,000 rats caught with so few New Zealanders involved. The problem is huge. But wait, how many could be caught in Whangārei if, like Dai hopes, every street had backyard traps? Dai’s positivity and enthusiasm builds inside me again.

Let’s connect with Tiakina Whangārei and their backyard rat trapping project. Then we can all look forward to slamming the bin lid on our rat fatalities because “Rats are Bad!”

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