A rampant rodent infestation in the City of Johannesburg and surrounds continues to make headlines after the IFP denounced the city’s allocation of R2.5 million  to combatting the problem using several methods, including barn owls. Petros Sithole, spokesman for the party relayed the party’s sentiments that the government should rather be spending this money on the provision of houses. While there’s merit to the IFP’s stance, the problem boils down to the fact that residents are paying the price of government policies which employ inadequate foresight and few actionable steps. Lack of infrastructure, inadequate provision of sanitation and lax pest control methods have resulted in a rat infestation now affecting the lives of thousands. As the infestation continues to make headlines, we chatted to The Specialists’ pest control expert Eberhard Niklaus about his thoughts on Johannesburg’s approach to rat control.
  1. Is the rat epidemic a new problem?

No. Rodent infestations in informal settlements and overcrowded areas have been problematic for many years. This is an ongoing problem that’s just getting worse, because the basic requirements for effective rat control have not always been fully implemented.
  1. What is your opinion on the city’s approach to addressing this problem?

I recently listened to an interview on Radio 702 where an official from the Department of Health responded to questions about the problem. Whilst they seem to understand the basic principles of rodent control, and have rolled out certain initiatives to combat the problem which are great in themselves, more is required in order to effectively eradicate the infestation.
  1. Is the use of barn owls a viable option in combatting the rat problem?

It forms a viable part of the overall solution, but a once-off eradication of an infestation is not a sustainable way to protect our communities from rat infestations in the future.
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Educating people about hygiene and effective exclusion measures is paramount in rat control methods that will last in the long term
  1. What are the positives and negatives of the city’s approach?

The steps being taken are a good starting point, but more needs to be done for a long- term solution. The effective eradication of rodents begins with educating people about the cause of the problem. Residents need to be provided with guidance about proper sanitation, as well as the hygienic disposal of food waste.
  1. What are the repercussions for residents if the city’s methods prove to be ineffective?

The health of the entire surrounding human population is at risk. Rodents carry over 45 types of diseases, which means that if the infestation is not adequately dealt with, the potential for the outbreak of disease is incredibly high. Rats carry diseases that include: Spirochetes (which causes Weil’s disease; Salmonella; E.coli; Enteritis; and Dysentery – to name a few. In addition, rats are known to bite babies, the infirm and the elderly and contaminate water and food.
  1. Is there a long term solution to this problem or alternatively, an effective preventative solution?

The first step in efficient rat control involves eliminating (via the city’s use of owls) or capturing rodents. This process has already been implemented by the council, but ongoing effective and safe baiting solutions will be required in order to achieve environmentally-viable solutions. Other important considerations also include:
  • Proper inspection and assessment of infestation sites - this will determine the source of infestation, as well as elements that are exacerbating the problem.
  • Identification of rodents – identifying the correct species enables you to focus on the appropriate tactics to eliminate the problem.
  • Proper sanitation - this includes the removal of food and water sources, as well as the removal of debris and vegetation currently serving as nesting sites.
  • Rodent proofing - potential entry points – such as a crack in a foundation or eave need to be closed in order to prevent rodents from entering human habitats. In addition:
  • Fill holes around utility pipes with wire mesh, concrete, etc.
  • Replace broken windows
  • Put covers on drains
  • Put rat guards on utility wire
  • Store all materials off the ground (45 cm) and away from walls
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