Island of Rats

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A few days ago a puertorriqueña friend of mine texted me more depressing news from the island. I had quit reading about Puerto Rico full stop since the moment I realized my screeds against colonialism wouldn’t incite the nationwide uprising I’d dreamed they would. And while her message was mostly emojis and, thus, largely indecipherable, from what I could make out, it appears Puerto Rico has some sort of rat problem.

I don’t know if they already have a pest control company working on the issue, but having spent my formative years in many a rat-infested hole in the wall, I figure I should try to be of some use again to my fellow Puerto Ricans by offering advice on dealing with a rat infestation.

First off, you have to determine how many rats you have on your hands. This sounds easy enough but it can get tricky, as rats are sneaky and experts at covering their tracks. You can get a good idea of how many of these little weasels you have scurrying around by how much cheese goes missing. A few slices disappearing here and there suggests a small mischief, but boatloads of missing cheddar could mean you have a whole colony of these greedy vermin. Getting rid of them as soon as possible is of the upmost importance because rats tend to multiply rapidly, breeding whole generations which quickly devour every last crumb.

Another way to gauge a rat problem is by making note of the damage they cause. Rats are notorious for gnawing away at anything they can sink their teeth into, even chewing through electrical wires and plumbing pipes. Power outages and a lack of running water are sure giveaways of a rodent invasion.

Next you must locate the rat nest. In most cases there are several. Rats are known to establish the site for their sexual congress in any chamber of a two-story house, either upper or lower. The discovery of rats in the upper and lower chambers indicates your rat problem is quite serious. Rats regularly assembling in a specific area points to a nest nearby. The presence of droppings can be misleading, since rats shit on everything wherever they go.

The location of the nest is determined by the type of rat you’re dealing with. While it’s commonly believed that two species of rat are found on the island of Puerto Rico, the two are merely subspecies of the same kind of rat. Puerto Rico’s two subspecies of rat do exhibit distinct behaviors, however, namely in how they go about acquiring cheese and where they keep their nests.

The fatter Tugwell rat prefers to keep its nest closest to the cheese, so a nest near the fridge is usually home to a member of this subspecies.

The Miramar rat, or palm rat as it is more commonly known, is smaller and more timid. More of a scavenger, this rat typically builds its nest farther away from the source of cheese, relying on the work of the craftier Tugwells to supply much of its diet.

After identifying the type of rat, estimating their population and locating their dens, all that’s left is to get rid of them. You can choose from a variety of methods, both lethal and non-lethal.

On the non-lethal end there’s the option of blocking the rats’ access to your home and, what they’re really after, your cheese. This option is not recommended for major infestations of Tugwell rats though, since the Tugwell, as I’ve mentioned, is crafty and always finds a way to get at your cheese. And once the Tugwell gets its paws on your cheese, it’s only a matter of time until the opportunistic palm rat does, too.

Another option is catching and removing them. Constantly on the lookout for cheese, rats are easily lured into a trap. Once caught red-handed, however, the question arises as to what to do with them. You can’t just release them back into the wild, not on an island: surrounded on all sides by water, they’re sure to remain lingering nearby, and sooner or later you’ll be infested all over again. You can have the rats shipped overseas, of course, but that’s just extraditing the problem to someplace else.

No, I’m afraid the cure for a serious infestation, one to the degree Puerto Rico is experiencing, demands a lethal course of action.

The easiest method is by laying traps, lethal ones this time. Just the tiniest sliver of cheese is all the bait needed to lure in a greedy-eyed rat. Traps should be laid where the rats have been seen coming and going. Once one reaches for its prize, SNAP! — no more rat.

You can also bomb their nests, but this risks structural damage which can be costly or, at the very least, create a huge inconvenience. Bombing rats, it should be pointed out, also involves clouds of smoke. Still, if you have a ton of rats doing a ton of damage, if the rats have already destroyed plenty of wiring and plumbing and nearly gobbled up all of your cheese, then you might feel bombing them well worth the added hassle.

Yet there remains one final solution to Puerto Rico’s rat problem which doesn’t involve any expulsion or bombs.

Dogs.

Dogs are truly man’s best friend, and they present the perfect remedy to any rat infestation. Plus Puerto Rico is home to a species of stray dog known as the sato, whose size, build and hardscrabble existence make them natural ratters. Many satos were sent abroad to adoptive families after Hurricane Maria hit in late 2017, but I’m sure there are plenty of people and organizations in Puerto Rico willing to volunteer their dogs for the campaign of ridding the island once and for all of every last rat. The Partido Nacionalista and the MINH may be good places to start.

Of course, so many dead rats may exacerbate the island’s equally serious vulture problem, but a quick Internet search using the keywords “Puerto Rico” and “vultures” should yield a few modest proposals on how to handle that issue.

Featured image: Jim/Flickr

Hector is the editor and publisher of Enclave. A Chicago writer now floating on the edge of Las Vegas, he is also the former deputy editor for Latino Rebels, as well as the former managing editor for Gozamos, a Latino art-activism site based in his home town. He has contributed to RedEye, a Chicago daily geared toward millennials, and La Respuesta, a New York-based site for the Puerto Rican Diaspora, plus a number of publications, including The Huffington Post. He studied history (for some reason) at the University of Illinois-Chicago, where his focus was on ethnic relations in the United States.

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