Even as a pet rat lover, I am not thrilled to think that there are as many rats as there are New Yorkers, living in the dank, dark underbelly of the City. No matter how I look at it, a cute black and white pet rat named Oreo is just not the same as a 19-inch brown sewer rat that may be carrying the plague. Not that rats — even sewer rats — should not be given their due respect as fellow sentient beings on this planet, but they do unfortunately carry lots of nasty diseases that are not so good for people. The last thing New York City needs right now is an outbreak of the plague!
However, we are now three days post-storm surge and very few rats have been seen. So, where are they?
In 2011, Manitoba, Canada experienced high flood waters in the surrounding environs and consequently also had a huge influx of rats fleeing the rising waters. Rats are excellent swimmers and climbers, not to mention survivalists, and thus the Winnipeg press found itself warning residents: “The rodents breed fast and by the time the flood water recedes, a single pair of rats can generate rodents through an entire neighborhood.” This past summer in the U.K. rats fled the sewers and invaded people’s warm cozy homes, also due to flooding. So, is New York City next?
Rick Ostfeld of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Milbrook, N.Y. has been keeping an eye on NYC’s rat populations during this past week: ”It’s not just about the high winds and rain,” said Ostfeld of Hurricane Sandy. ”A rat disturbance is something we should be concerned about.”
Without doubt, many rats died during the storm surge, but most of these resilient rodents most likely survived and will now need to relocate. Without a paid relocation specialist, the rats will go wherever they can – and most likely that will be in closer proximity, if not outright co-habitation, with humans.
Such close human-rat encounters could trigger not only girly screams but also outbreaks of leptospirosis, hantavirus, typhus, salmonella and even that so-medieval disease, the plague.
But as of now, no one seems to know where New York City’s 8 million rats are… One cynical New Yorker has her ideas, “Everyone knows the rats moved out years ago. The rents are just too %$#! high!”