I first put down rat poison when living in Claremont, Cape Town. We lived across a canalised river from Villagers Rugby ground. The small, back garden was dominated by an ancient oak tree that once formed an avenue of trees along the river bank when it was still a proper river. A pigeon hutch perched on top of a tall pole under the tree. An ugly blight on the urban landscape, I’ve never been particularly fond of pigeons (*) - flying rodents, feathered vermin. Feathered rats, you might say. These, however, were of the fan-tailed variety. Brilliantly white, their tail feathers fanned out proudly behind them. Kitsch, feathered rats, in other words. Jumped up rats, but still rats. We’d inherited them from the previous owners and although we’d rather not have had them there and they seemed perfectly capable of feeding themselves, we took to feeding them.
By feeding them we were also feeding the large, dark rats that lived in the river canal’s cracked walls.
Not much was seen of them during the day but as soon as night fell, the area under the oak tree became a sea of undulating fur and slicing tails. Sometimes you’d see a rat scampering over the lawn in the twilight, but it was too dark to see their massed milling from the back porch. For that, you needed to get closer. Not too close as that would scare them back into the river. After seeing three of them shred a fledgling that had fallen out of the pigeon hutch, I decided to wage warfare on them.
They had to go!
Putting down rat poison is tricky business when you have dogs that have free rein of the garden. Not only is the poison fatal but you need to keep them away from the poisoned rat carcasses. The safest place to put the stuff was in the garden shed. While the dogs were unable to get in there, we knew that the rats had no trouble at all - rat shit was all over the place!
In the first few days of my war on the rats, I collected numerous of their bodies on a daily basis. In less than a week, their numbers had dropped off radically.
The daily carcass collection involved a hunt round the garden and careful examination of the shed. On the second day of the war, while lifting up pots and other bits and pieces of garden equipment in the shed, I came across seven blind, hairless, baby rats. With the mass killing of rats that was taking place, it shouldn’t have been unexpected but discovering them was still a bit of a shock. They looked so defenceless. Of course they did, they were so defenceless! Seven may not be three and farmers’ wives don’t live in Claremont, but there was no way that they’d be running anywhere. I couldn’t just leave them there to starve to death.
It would have been easy to crush them under foot but remembering how, as a child, I’d seen unwanted newborn kittens disposed of, I chose to drown them. It was swift and, I hope, painless. But despite the enjoyment I’d been getting from killing the adult rats, it was very unpleasant.
Soon we were rid of them. Living near the river, it was never going to be a permanent thing but feeding the pigeons was definitely going to encourage the rats.
Those pigeons had to go!
(*) I may not like them that much but one of the best sounds of summer is the sound of the doves calling out to each other in the stifling heat.