How tech is assisting the war against New York’s rats

We're coming for you, Remy.

Rat Chase

Regardless of how adorable Pizza Rat, Burrito Rat, or the inevitable Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Rat may be, New York’s rodent problem appears to be reaching DEFCON 2 status.

At least one New York resident has referred to her neighborhood park as “the Burning Man of rats”. The vermin are systematically murdering pigeons in broad daylight. And they might even cause the next plague.

So what’s a city to do? Turn to tech, of course.

If asked where rats tend to hang in the city, a not-wrong answer would be “everywhere”. A map designed by Meredith Myers gets a bit more specific. Using 311 data, the NYC Rat Map displays the last 10,000 rat sightings in New York City and highlights areas with large concentrations of the rogue rodents. Not detailed enough to satiate your sick desire to know just how surrounded you are? Last year, the city launched the Rat Information Portal, an interactive online map that lets you search for rat sightings, inspections, and signs of rat inhabitance at your exact address.

When it comes to ensuring New York’s rat population doesn’t continue to grow, the solution almost seems too obvious: give them birth control. In 2013, the MTA began littering four subway stations with ContraPest, a sterilization bait that the Wall Street Journal reported as tasting “like an egg cream.” Though tests were performed at a relatively small scale, SenesTech – the Arizona-based pest control research facility behind ContraPest – reported a 43% population decrease in those stations, based on the data they were able to collect. The sterilization tech, which has since seen use in similarly infested Chicago, is designed to only affect rats and poses no environmental accumulation risk.

Across the world, infestation fighters are taking increasingly high-tech approaches to eradication. In a May feature, The Verge detailed an aerial poison bombing campaign on the island of South Georgia, one that reportedly left no survivors. New York’s population density, however, renders a similar campaign impossible. Instead, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in May that he would make permanent an anti-rat pilot program that hones in on “rat reservoirs”, areas like parks, playgrounds, and sewers where the rodents tend to gather en masse. The mayor pledged $3 million in funding for the program, which will employ a team of 50, including three “rat biologists”.

Some New Yorkers’ approach to killing off the city’s rats, meanwhile, is decidedly low-tech. R.A.T.S. – short for Ryders Alley Trencher-fed Society – is a group that meets on occasion to send their dogs out to hunt – this Roads and Kingdom piece on the group is worth a read.