Rats have become the scourge of the Okanagan Valley becoming established in urban areas across the southern Interior.
With the provincial government showing no interest in engaging taxpayer dollars for a mass extermination effort, local residents have been left largely on their own to deal with rat infestations.
On a municipal level, the Regional District of South Okanagan-Similkameen (RDSOS) has gone the furthest in supporting rat extermination campaigns, focusing on rat infestations that originated in Naramata and the West Bench three years ago, working in tandem with Orkin Canada pest control.
Zoe Kirk, with the RDSOS pest and mosquito control branch, said Orkin provided a rat inspection property assessment to homeowners in those two specific areas, and if a trap program was called for over a 90-day period at a $250 cost, the regional district reimbursed residents for half that amount.
“The uptake results were most effective for Naramata, which went initially from 40 people in the program three years ago when we started it, to now about one or two,” Kirk said.
Kirk said the regional district has invested in a public education program to inform local residents how to ward off rat infestations on their property.
“We have done a lot of public education about rats, and we give talks to continually remind folks this is about extermination. It’s not a catch and release situation,” she said.
“We have had people live-trapping and letting them go in the woods but that is a disastrous option. Rats are not meant to live in the woods so they usually end up just becoming someone else’s problem if they can find a safe haven.
“And that generally means an urban setting. Rats tend to follow humans because we are good sources of food and shelter.”
In the Kelowna-West Kelowna corridor, rat concerns have been expressed numerous times in recent years.
Rats were enough of a widespread concern in the Kelowna South-Central Association of Neighbourhoods that it prompted a visit last year from Don Stolz, integrated pest management gardener with the Kelowna’s parks division, to explain to association members how to deal with them.
Stolz told the Kelowna Capital News this week that rat sightings have become common in Kelowna’s Mission, downtown core, Glenmore and Rutland areas in the last three or four years.
“In the Raymer-Richter area where I live, I just caught one the other night. I have lived there for 23 years and I never saw any rats, not one, until just in the last three or four years,” Stolz said.
|This destroyed golf ball reflects the chewing veracity of rats. Photo: Barry Gerding/Black Press|
“My neighbour alerted me about it initially, and we talked about it among our other neighbours as to how we can collectively deal with the problem. It doesn’t matter if you take all the rat proofing precautions in your own yard if the neighbour is not doing the same thing.
“Rats don’t understand property lines. They go where they can find food, water and warmth. And they can really travel and cover a lot of ground.”
Stolz said reports from Toovey Heights residents of rats being spotted in various yards this winter was a surprise for him to hear, something which both he and long-time Toovey residents say has never occurred previously.
“They can fit into some amazing places. If they can get their nose, face and and an ear inside an opening, they will get through even if their body is twice the size of the hole. If you think a hole might be too small for them to fit through, think again,” Stolz said.
Frank Ritcey, provincial coordinator with WildSafe BC, tends to focus on bear, deer and coyote complaint issues, but the exploding rat population issue has gained the public’s interest.
“If you take all our education materials and substitute rat for bear, it pretty much amounts to the same thing in terms of wildlife proofing your property,” Ritcey said.
He said the reason rats are suddenly showing up in Interior communities is a bit of a mystery, one he says that Thompson Rivers University students have begun doing preliminary research on.
“They are able to get around by transferring themselves in or on trucks or other shipped goods from the Lower Mainland and if they find an urban setting, they can thrive,” he said.
“We have cameras along lots of trails in the region but we never see any rats. We see lots of other wildlife and rodents but never any rats. They don’t survive well in the wild.”
|Nolan Newman, with Orkin Canada, holds up modified rat catcher using a PCV tube as a runway drawing rats into the trap set up in the middle of the tubing. Photo: Barry Gerding/Black Press|
Nolan Newman, B.C. Interior and Yukon branch manager for Orkin Canada in Kelowna, thinks the rat outbreak in the Interior can be traced to a garbage strike in Vancouver more than a decade ago, where garbage was allowed to accumulate on the streets.
“After that strike, we began to see rats showing up in areas never seen before throughout the Okanagan, Kamloops, Salmon Arm, Creston, Cache Creek, Castlegar and Nelson,” Newman said, adding rats set up home in cars, semi-trucks and truck transport loads, essentially hitchhiking their way to Interior communities.
“My daughter came back from Vancouver one time and she had three rats hiding in her vehicle. With transport trucks, you often see pallets of something stored outside waiting to be loaded, and rats will nestle in among them traveling with the shipment wherever it is going.”
And if they arrive in your community unhindered, rats multiply quickly at a far greater level than even rabbits.
“Rats have a shorter gestation period. They become sexually mature very early in life, six weeks of age, and they can have a large litter of 10 to 12 babies at a time. Females can give birth to one batch of babies and at the same time be pregnant with the next batch,” Ritcey said.
“The gestation period is only about three weeks. It’s very short.”
Ritcey is working with Kirk in Penticton to expand the rat control brochure initiative for the South Okanagan for distribution to the Central and North Okanagan regions. The City of Kelowna also has information on the city website about how to address a rat problem on your property.
Rats are a pest for two key reasons—they are poisonous and destructive to vegetation and property.
They like to hide around house soffits or vents, underneath sheds and woodpiles, or in compost. Rats are seeking warmth, food and water. And they have a peculiar sweet tooth for electrical wiring, which can cause headaches for vehicle and house owners.
“There is something in the plastic cover of the wiring they can smell and love to chew on, which is not uncommon for other rodents as well like marmots,” Ritcey said.
Another dining favourite for rats is bird seed, to the point where bird feeders are not recommended where rats are present.
“Deer can get into bird feeders and make a mess on the ground, and rats come along and feed off the leftovers on the ground. Bird seed is high in calories so for rats it’s big caloric hit and provides a food source during the winter,” Ritcey said.
Kirk said they discourage bird feeder use, instead advising residents consider other natural foliage which birds can feed on but takes rats out of equation, such as sunflowers, millet and oat grasses and fruit berries.
“You can’t hang bird feeders high enough, either,” she added. “I have seen rats scale up wires that I wouldn’t think was possible to get at a bird feeder. There is no safe place to put them. The best thing you can do is stop using bird seed.”
Stolz noted that any potential food that drops on the ground, from bird seed to fruit and nuts, should be raked up daily.
“We treat rats like any other pest in the city. We have rats on our city properties, such as parks, that we have to deal with. And the expectation is for local residents to do the same.
Environmental and moral ways to trap rats
• Don’t use sticky traps because such devices can accidentally trap other animals
• Chemicals are discouraged because other wildlife can feed off disoriented rats and pass on the chemical into the wildlife eco-system
• Rat traps should be cover proofed to prevent the killed rodent’s exposure; a cut-out milk crate secured by a rock works and covered rat traps are sold in hardware departments
• Rat trap bait suggestions include peanut butter, Nutella, marshmallows, dates, raisins, baking grease, WowButter, Provoke gel, dark chocolate
• Rats are very intelligent as all bait options don’t work for all rats
• Dead rats should be put in plastic bag for the landfill
• Rat traps can be re-used multiple times as the scent left behind by captured rats can be an attractant for others to follow
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