Prague authorities crack down on vermin

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The other day Prague saw the beginning of a six-month programme of “deratizace”, meaning rat extermination, and to my ears an amusing word. The Czech name for somebody who works in the field is “deratizátor”, which I guess could be loosely translated as rat terminator.

The number of rats in the city has risen sharply due to two relatively mild winters, and a number of big building projects. Prague 8 and 9 have seen the biggest population booms, due to extension work on the metro system. (Rats also love new shopping centres, apparently, so that’s one more reason to avoid them.)

As for how many rats there are in the Czech capital, a Prague Waterworks and Sewers official, who did not wish to be named, told Hospodařské noviny there could well be over five million. It seems an odd thing to want to remain anonymous about, but in any case if that figure is right there are roughly five rodents per human inhabitant in the city.

“Rats with wings” are also an issue in Prague at the moment. Pigeons deposit an estimated 500 tonnes of droppings on the capital annually, causing extensive damage to buildings. For the first time in some years, the authorities have decided action must be taken.

One step planned is a ban on feeding pigeons in Prague – they say that could lead to a 10- to 20-percent decline in numbers.

As for actual extermination, the question is how. For safety reasons, you can’t shoot pigeons – though shooting was the preferred method of population control until as late as 1979. The current method of choice is catching them in cages, though ideas differ on what to do with them next.

One proposal is to kill them humanely using gas. The other is to release them in a different location, though that approach has of course one obvious drawback – we’re talking about pigeons here, and what creature is more likely to home?

Another solution could be to use birds of prey, though the average hawk simply wouldn’t consume more than two or three a week. The birds apparently get used to one another; after a while you’ll see hawks sitting beside pigeons on ledges, one expert told the papers.