June 10, 2014
Invasion Of The Giant Rats
This may sound like the title of a science fiction movie, but in fact it is actually happening in the Florida Keys. The rat is called the Gambian giant pouched rat and can grow to three feet long including the tail and weigh nine pounds or more. It has very poor eyesight and relies heavily on hearing and its keen sense of smell. In fact, a company in Tanzania trains these giant rodents to detect land mines and tuberculosis, and they call them HeroRATS.
They are native to Africa, so how did they arrive in the States?
Sometime between 1999 and 2001, a breeder released them into the wild and in 2003, the CDC and FDA issued an order to stop the importation of these rats into the US. It was determined they were the carrier of monkey pox and 20 individuals became infected.
Starting in 2007, efforts began to rid the area of these enormous rodents and it was thought to be a successful battle.
However, the rat has made a comeback and Scott Hardin recently commented, “We thought we had them whipped as of 2009…. In the early part of 2011, a resident e-mailed me and said he saw one of the rats. We were skeptical but went back and talked to people and [saw] there were rats that we missed.”
Harden also believes there is less than two dozen roving around the keys, left over from last year’s trapping effort. This July, another attempt to eradicate the giant rats will take place. “I would not imagine there’s more than another couple of dozen at most. We’ve caught them all within a half-mile of each other… We think they have not moved far but they clearly reproduced,” he stated back in 2012.
Jenny Eckles, a biologist stated, “We know that there are still some out there and we’ve been doing some limited trapping and monitoring. We’re also hiring [the U.S. Department of Agriculture] to come back down and do 10-day trappings. They’ll trap four times over the next year for 10 days each.”
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) plans to “put out a bunch of live traps, 150 to 200, bait it with cantaloupe or peanut butter and check them every day,” Eckles added and plans to “do more smaller-scale trapping events in between the large-scale [U.S.D.A.] events.”
“We’ll focus on the core areas where we’ve had the most captures. We’re hoping we get help from a lot of different landowners so we can find out where they might be holed up and get permission to trap on their property,” she said. The last rat was seen in December and “it is really hard” to capture them all.
One reason is their reproductive rate. The female rat can produce a litter of up to six babies every nine months and can become pregnant at only five months old.
Even though this is a real life dilemma, I wonder when an original SyFy movie will come out.
Image Credit: Gooutside / Wikipedia