Thu, Sep 30, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Mexico to try new solution for rat problem: more cats

INFESTATION The state of Chihuahua plans to bring in hundreds of cats to deal with a plague of rats, but critics say the plan will only create a stray cat problem


Hundreds of cats are being recruited in the northern state of Chihuahua to launch an attack on a rat population that has grown into the hundreds of thousands.

Chihuahua health officials said Tuesday they hope to get as many as 700 felines and send them to Atascaderos, an isolated farm village in the Tarahumara mountains, a region where officials estimate there are about a half million rats.

The cats are being collected in Chihuahua city, capital of the northern Mexican state of the same name, where they will be vaccinated and checked for rabies and then shipped by truck to Atascaderos, said Roberto Gallegos, a health official who is overseeing the recruitment of the cats.

"So far we don't have any cats, but an animal control agency already promised to donate 50," Gallegos said. "Our goal is to stop the rats from reproducing and that's how we hope the cats can help."

Advertisements asking for cat donations began circulating in Chihuahua newspapers Monday and officials hope some 200 will be ready to travel to Atascaderos this weekend.

Gallegos said the cats would be given to rat-infested households in Atascaderos, a town of 3,000 people, where rats are said to have attacked domestic animals.

People started noticing the rodent problem a year ago when rats appeared in barns and warehouses where they stored produce.

Farmers started using traps and poison, but the effort backfired: Cats and other animals that prey on rats started dying instead.

"Now they have no cats left and the rats just keep reproducing," Gallegos said.

Eustaquio Marin, a spokesman with the municipality of Guadalupe y Calvo, where Atascaderos is located, said about 800 households are infested with the rats. He said there was an average of at least 200 rats per home.

Emilia de Leon of the Animal Protection Society in Monterrey, the largest urban area in northern Mexico, was alarmed by the plan and pointed out sending stray cats that haven't been sterilized could create more problems.

"Now there is going to be a plague of cats and what are they going to do -- start to exterminate cats?" de Leon said.

"It would be a very big mistake to use cats that have not been sterilized."

With the rats able to produce 800 offspring per year, authorities are desperate for a solution.

"It's like the problem in The Pied Piper of Hamelin tale, but unfortunately that flutist doesn't exist and what we have here is an imminent health problem," Gallegos said.

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