Say cheese. Photo: contributed

Growing rodent population in south end

Problem is not Dal’s alone


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A solitary rat scurries across the atrium floor of Dalhousie University's Killam Library. An onlooker points and gasps, and without a moment of hesitation everyone in the rat's path lifts their feet off the ground, watching the rat until it disappears into an impossibly small crevice.

Though the presence of vermin has lessened in recent years, according to Don McCarthy, president of Braemar Pest Control Services, urban areas will always have to contend with the issue to some degree, especially port cities such as Halifax.

"This used to be rat city," says McCarthy. "Years ago a rat sighting could be overlooked, but not anymore. There is zero tolerance."

According to McCarthy, mice are sexually mature after a month. He says if a mouse situation is not seen to within that amount of time, their young will start multiplying at alarming rates, not unlike rats.

All it takes is two of these rodents to start an infestation. With an average litter of about nine, a population can grow to over one hundred in just a few months.

The Vietnamese custom of contending with rat infestations by trapping and marketing rat meat as a delicacy is not likely to be adopted by the Killam Bistro, whose food inspection report is clean.

If a rodent is seen on campus, Dalhousie's Facilities Management office is contacted immediately, and if the problem is not an isolated case Braemar, who has a contract with Dalhousie, is called. Mike Murphy, who is on the receiving end of these calls, has studied such vermin and has come to understand their habits.  

Murphy says calls usually start coming in at the onset of winter when rodents try to come in from the cold. Dalhousie is located in an area where there are a lot of older buildings that have seen their share of infestations, as they are easily infiltrated by rodents. Rats, for instance, are able to gnaw through most anything, including wire and aluminum.

Over the past four years there has been a steady rise in the number of rodents in Halifax, but according to McCarthy there have been few reports so far this year.

The relatively mild weather this fall may be the reason for this, keeping the rodents at bay until the cold weather sets in.

This grace period affords an opportunity to be proactive. McCarthy offered some basic guidelines.

"Make sure not to afford a place for them to hide and gain entrance," says McCarthy. Doors and windows should be secured, and there should be no garbage or recycling left alongside the home."

The Dalhousie campus is a densely populated area that has high volumes of garbage. This potential food source is more likely to attract vermin if it is not disposed of accordingly.

Other sources of food, such as birdfeeders and compost bins, are like rodent magnets, and according the McCarthy, have created a problem all over the city.

Murphy acknowledges that there is a rodent problem at Dalhousie, but says "the university is not unique in this regard. There is a rodent problem all over the south end. We try to keep things as clean as we can."

Murphy attributes the problem to negligence. He says Facilities Management does its part by trying to address each and every instance, but says the public must take some responsibility.

To give the public a chance to share stories about their dealings with rodents taking up residence in Halifax, here is one of 34 stories that were submitted on a local message board this week.

"I had a rat problem," says Adam Townsend, referring to a time some years ago when he lived on Jubilee Road, just a few blocks from Dalhousie.

"One time they stole a whole loaf of bread that was on top of my fridge. I later found the empty bag by a hole behind my toilet. They were coming in from a broken sewer pipe. I set up a trap under my sink [and] one night I killed seven rats in about three hours."



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