I’d like to address the highly dangerous rat infestation that affected PS/IS 217 and the toxic, shortsighted solution provided by the New York City Department of Education (DOE) – as well as the natural, straightforward solution: cats!
I think everyone knows about the recent rat infestation at our public school. What is less known, however, is that the DOE “resolved” the issue by applying toxic chemicals around the infested area, which also happens to be in close proximity to the neighboring Roosevelt Island Day Nursery.
The danger is not only with the poison itself, but also the way it is distributed and the way it moves through our lives. Unlike the popular assumption, rats do not bite and die inside the bait station. Rats that feed on those station baits can take several days to die.
In fact, they pick up the baits and move them to other areas, where children and pets – attracted by the fuchsia and/or emerald green colors and shapes, which can look like Lego blocks – may pick them up. The poisoned rats become increasingly weak, making them easy prey for predators. Hungry raptors or other wildlife can receive a lethal dose when they feed on the poisoned rats.
Any bait forgotten left will deteriorate into a powdery form that can be inhaled. Another consequence is that a simple rainfall will channel the poison into the ground, into storm drains and sewers and finally into our already endangered waters. The use of toxic chemicals hurts our environment; endangers our children, pets and wildlife; and needs to be repeated, eventually.
On Roosevelt Island in the last eight months we lost three raptors to poison (one red-tailed and two Cooper’s hawks), dozens of Eastern Gray squirrels, dozens of European Starlings, and innumerable House Sparrows and other species. A few years ago, we also lost two dogs.
In 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared that second-generation rodenticides posed “unreasonable risks” to children, pets, and wildlife. Unaccountably, however, the law still allows large retailers to sell, and exterminators to use, both rodenticides and tamper-proof bait stations like the type used at PS/IS 217.
A 1999-2003 EPA survey found that at least 25,549 children in the U.S. under age six ingested enough rodenticide to suffer poisoning symptoms. Approximately 15,000 calls per year come to the Centers for Disease Control from parents whose children have eaten rodenticides. And according to an article in the January-February 2013 issue of Audubon magazine, in New York State alone, rodenticides were found in 49 percent of 12 species of necropsied raptors.
So why not revisit the old, highly efficient method used throughout the ages from medieval granaries to sixteenth century palaces? Cats offer eco-friendly pest control. Recently, cats have been “rediscovered” as Mother Nature’s exterminators: the safest, efficient, permanent, and ecologically elegant solution to rat infestations. Cat patrols are currently the weapon of choice used by major, well known organizations that include Disneyland, the Los Angeles Police Department, the Javits Convention Center, the Empirical Brewery of Chicago, and many others in the United States.
To debunk another myth, cats will not kill and eat rats. The mere presence of a few cats, exuding predator pheromones, will prevent a female rat from giving birth in the vicinity.
Creating a Cat patrol is very simple: The Wildlife Freedom Foundation can quickly install a mini cat sanctuary near the PS/IS 217 cafeteria external area. At most, three stray cats would be needed for this project. These cats will also perform a second service for the community, by providing the opportunity for children to care for them through a community service, and learn basic principles of civic engagement like respect and responsibility. The Wildlife Freedom Foundation would closely supervise children’s interaction with the cats.
I have no doubts whatsoever that a Roosevelt Island cat patrol will deal with rat issues with 100-percent efficiency and safety. As many major corporations have discovered, the garbage-rat equation may be persistent and inevitable – but so is the solution!
Rossana Ceruzzi is President & Founder of the Wildlife Freedom Foundation. The Wildlife Freedom Foundation is an all volunteer-based non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. Your donation of any amount can make a difference. Donate at: wildlifefreedomfoundation.org