Rat Island: How we’re creating the perfect environment for rodents

Over-population, excessive waste, and manic construction... Malta’s populous coastlines are home to a growing army of undesirables

Excessive waste, over-population, and overbearing construction are creating the perfect environment for rats to thrive in.

There has always been a rat population in Malta, but the escalating increase of overpopulation is increasing infestation around the island, says expert Arnold Sciberras.

Sciberras is an exterminator, pest controller, naturalist, and overall rat enthusiast.

“I have nature at heart,” said Sciberras, who became a pest controller when he realised he could make a difference and conserve the environment by controlling pests.

He has attributed Malta’s increased rat population to three major factors: overpopulation, waste, and increased construction and buildings.

“The urban areas where rodent infestation is high are Mqabba and Maghtab, but also Valletta and Sliema. In these areas, rats may occur by the thousands”

“Rats can be found where waste is abundant. This is why reports of infestations in areas like Maghtab and Mqabba are frequent. Waste is, however, increasing all over the island, and people often leave their rubbish outside during the night, increasing the chances of rats in the area.”

Rodents are distributed everywhere but differently across the Maltese island, Sciberras said. “The urban areas that I’ve dealt with where rodent infestation is high are Mqabba and Maghtab, but also Valletta and Sliema. In these areas, rats may occur by the thousands.”

The excessive increase of construction and buildings are also affecting the number of rats found in Malta. Rats are on the rise due to the reckless construction all over the island.

“Sometimes, they don’t take into consideration the small details,” Sciberras said. “They miss proofing methodologies which would decrease rat infestation, like covering small holes and crevices.”

Construction also causes leakages, excess sewage and overall waste which attract rats to the area. The increase of housing results in lack of sewage space, leading rats to find shelter elsewhere. Very high buildings reduce the amount of sunlight in streets, creating dark environments.

“We are creating the perfect environment for nocturnal habitats ideal for rats and cockroaches, one similar to a drainpipe,” Sciberras said, stressing on the need to never leave sewage exposed, or leave waste and food leftovers on construction sites.

Arnold Sciberras with a pet squirrel
Arnold Sciberras with a pet squirrel

Rat aesthetic: more than just a phobia

Although most people just dislike the idea of rats in the area, rats cause more destruction then just aesthetic value.

“Rats will gnaw through any plastics and any electrical wiring, causing damage to housing. Rats also carry various diseases. Rat bites and scratches can result in disease and rat-bite fever. They can contaminate food and drink with rat urine, causing diseases,” Sciberras said.

“For example, people shouldn’t drink from can bottles.”

There have been cases over the years of diseases and sicknesses due to rat infestation, but Sciberras said it’s more of a phobia people feel. People simply don’t like the sight of rats.

Proofing is always the main key in rodent control. However, hygiene is also an important factor. Residents should not only keep their establishments clean but also the outside of their surroundings. “When people find wild rats in their property, ideally they should close the rodent in the area found and call a pest control company. Pest controllers would be aware of the dangers and treatments needed to contain the specimen/s and treatment and sterilisation of site.”

While not against the feeding of stray cats, Sciberras said that residents should also be careful of the amount of food they give them. He suggested that when people give cats food, they shouldn’t leave food for a long time as it attracts more rats. Apart from that, well-fed cats would not hunt rats, causing more rats to roam freely.

Vermin and disease

One of the most historically dangerous rat-borne diseases is the bubonic plague, also called “Black Plague,” and its variants. Transfer occurs when fleas from the rats bite human beings. Fleas transported on rats are considered responsible for this plague during the Middle Ages, which killed millions. From the transmission of bubonic plague to typhus, rat infestations can prove harmful to human health.

Rats also are a potential source of allergens. Their droppings, dander and shed hair can cause people to sneeze and experience other allergic reactions.

Diseases transmitted by rats fall into one of two categories: diseases transmitted directly from exposure to rat-infected faeces, urine or bites and diseases indirectly transmitted to people by an intermediate arthropod vector such as fleas, ticks or mites.

  • Hemorrhagic Fever with Renal Syndrome Disease spreads by breathing in dust that is contaminated with rodent urine or droppings •  Direct contact with rodents or their urine and droppings • Bite wounds, although this does not happen frequently • The disease may spread through direct contact from person to person, but it is extremely rare
  • Leptospirosis Disease spreads by eating food or drinking water contaminated with urine from infected animals • Contact through the skin or mucous membranes (such as inside the nose) with water or soil that is contaminated with the urine from infected animals
  • Rat-Bite Fever Disease spreads by bite or scratch wound from an infected rodent, or contact with a dead rodent •  Eating or drinking food or water that is contaminated by rat faeces
  • Salmonellosis Disease spread by eating or drinking food or water that is contaminated by rat faeces

Rat infestation around the Maltese Islands

Rat infestation isn’t just affecting Malta, but also Gozo, Comino and St Paul’s Islands. While the rat population in Gozo is less than Malta, populated mainly around areas such as Xlendi, Comino has a bigger problem, due to the huge amounts of waste left on the Island.

Sciberras said that the problem in Comino is bad not only for the public, but mostly for the endemic species found on the island, as the rats are eradicating them.

“Remember that rats are adaptive creatures. They easily adapt to their environment and to the people around them. They’re very intelligent to live with us,” he said. “At the end of the day, humans are the biggest pests in the world, and they adapt around us.”

 

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