Summer in Cape Town can be both exceptionally beautiful, almost paradise-like, or it can be irritatingly windy alternating with irritatingly hot and sweaty. The paradise days are few, but when they do appear, those irritating days fade into a distant memory, even if it was only yesterday.
The grape vines in the courtyard have been here for seemingly centuries, if one is to judge by the size of their trunks. The grapes are hanging in big fat droves, waiting to ripen fully in about a month or two. While we were idly reminiscing about the day, enjoying the blissfully still, perfect day, a housemate noticed a rat crawling amongst the grapes that fall onto the roof. We quickly re-assembled ourselves inside, and once our nerves had settled, called the exterminators. He arrived, did his dastardly deed by putting the rat boxes in strategic places and left, having given us instructions as to what to do next. So now, we wait. Wait for the rat or rats, should there be more than one of them, to come down at some time, munch on the poison, and die.
If you have ever seen a rat die from poison, you will know that it is not a pleasant site. In fact, it is revolting and seemingly very cruel. I had the misfortune of seeing one die like this, about 15 years ago when I owned a house in another suburb. It was horrible, and the memory of it every time I hear of someone having a rat problem, is vivid.
There was a huge bougainvillea plant in the back garden. Being an avid gardener, Saturdays were spent trimming, pruning, picking, weeding, and various other chores in the garden. This Saturday was no different, and the bougainvillea was scheduled for a major pruning. While standing back and planning where to cut, when suddenly these two smallish rats (they could not have been mice) ran up the trunk. It was startling, but considering the huge spiders and other bugs sometimes encountered while gardening, I thought nothing of it. In fact, I naively decided that they must have been living in the neighbour’s garden. Well by the following Saturday, there was no doubt they were multiplying rapidly. Nine rats ran up the trunk. That was the deciding point. There was absolutely no way I wanted them in the house, so it was time to take a decision. After consulting with various dispensers of rat poison, i.e. the chemist and hardware store man, who assured me that it was the best and most effective way to deal with the problem. Rat poison was then laid down in strategic spots. At the time, I did not think to cover it to make it hard to reach for other creatures, so unfortunately lost a few garden birds in the process. About a week later, I stood on the same spot and waited to see if any rats were still alive. They seemed to have disappeared, which was a satisfying feeling. Even better, I had not noticed any dead ones around, or any dead rat smells lingering. About to turn away, a rat crawled out from under the beams in the garden. I could see he was half-dead, and wish I had looked away, but he slowly crawled towards me and then died, blood spurting out of all orifices. It was a terrible feeling. As if, I was and am the worst serial killer on this planet. Of course, I knew the rats are unable to regurgitate, therefore rendering any poison ingested quite effective. It just did come to mind at the time. Most over the counter rat poisons contain warfarin, a common blood thinner which taken in the correct doses, is very effective in preventing blood clotting in humans. In rats, in high quantities, they just bleed to death. I still have doubts whether it is a humane manner to deal with them.
What is the most effective way of dealing with this problem though? What happens if one doesn’t ‘get rid’ of them? Is there such a thing as a rat catcher, who comes and relocates them? Is there another, kinder method of merely discouraging them? I do not know the answers, but would be interested to know how you have dealt with it.