|Our Nation’s Capital Is Overrun by Rats—Figuratively and Literally|
|Thursday, 04 October 2012 00:00 | Written by Marita Prandoni | Blog Entry|
A few winters ago I was visiting family in Bethesda, MD, a suburb of Washington, DC. As we were driving home one rainy night, I thought I saw a cat dart across the street. At second glance, I realized it was a paunchy rat. Accustomed to seeing zigzagging cottontails in the headlights in my home state of New Mexico rather than rats, the sight of this husky vermin left an impression.
According to my relatives, the Norway rat population in our nation’s capital is out of control. They are especially attracted to the Washington, DC, area because of its urban density, low altitude and moist climate. These cheeky, disgusting creatures have plunged residents, as well as restaurant and business owners, into a tenacious battle to get rid of them. Warming temperatures, excessive food waste, overflowing garbage and indifferent municipal government have contributed to the area’s proliferation of rats.
Rat litters number six to 12 and their gestation is about three weeks. The average female has four to six litters in her lifetime. Rats can live up to 18 months, but most die within a year. They chew on electrical wires to file down their incisor teeth, which can grow up to five inches per year. They are vectors of bacterial salmonella infection and leptospirosis, among dozens of other nasty diseases.
Mid-Atlantic birdwatchers clubs report that peregrine falcon sightings in the DC area have increased in the past few years. Until 1999, the species was listed as endangered because of DDT contamination. They may be rebounding, in part due to the plentiful rat population. Nature always provides the best pest control to ecosystems out of balance. Let’s hope the rat-control experts aren’t using poison rat baits that in turn kill the falcons.
This idea led me to investigate other natural rat deterrents. I stumbled upon PredatorPee, an online purveyor of predator urine. The pee that best deters rats is coyote urine. Ken Johnson, the self-described “peeman,” contracts with zoos and wildlife preserves to procure these fear-arousing fluids. He insists they are collected humanely.
How apropos that rats have been multiplying in our nation’s hotbed of dirty deals. The health-insurance and pharmaceutical industries, for example, spent over $600 million over the past two years to reinforce their monopoly status within the healthcare overhaul. Health-insurance-industry stocks just hit a 52-week high. Franz Kafka couldn’t have thought up the current sardonic performance playing out in Washington.
And, of course, lobbying meant to derail legislation in the public’s interest isn’t anything new. It has been going on for years in many realms including the environmental one. Thus, it has been a struggle to pass the limited protections for clean air, water, land, etc., that we have.
Now, tens of thousands of ex-government workers have joined the suspect field of lobbying, which often involves slopping at the Washington restaurant troughs. As a consequence, back alleys can become banquets of disposed of food, providing a field day for rats.
When corporations spend huge amounts of money to influence lawmakers—something most citizens cannot do—our democracy is endangered. As the rodent underclass takes advantage of privileges others carelessly discard, maybe they’re trying to show us something. Maybe food isn’t the only liberty we’re squandering, but our democracy as well.
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