On a mouse-hunt, merrily

IF IT was the drone of the female Anopheles mosquito, vector of malaria, that was most dreaded during the monsoon season, it is now the squeak of rats that spread alarm. Rats are right on top in the latest villainy ratings for being the agents that transmit the potentially fatal Leptospirosis to humans.The health administrators are crying hoarse about the need for aggressive rodenticidal campaigns alongside the thrust on ensuring environmental hygiene, which, as far as the City Corporation is concerned, is a challenge greater than sending a man to the moon. The rodent population has been accused of polluting cesspools with a load of pathogens in their urine that produces the disease, medically termed Leptospirosis, but also named `Rat Fever' after the vector.

But this is no Hamelin, and neighbourhoods have to invent their own ways to put out the rat menace. In fact, the recent Leptospirosis threat has kick-started an economy that prospers on the sale of a range of poisons and contraptions handcrafted for rat elimination.

The mousetrap is of course the first and obvious choice but one suspects that the success rates with these contraptions have started dropping. Moreover, a rodent capture still leaves behind the messy job of killing the creature and burying the evidence.

The popular preference these days seems to be the variety of potent rat poisons on the shelves of medical shops and general stores. Shoppers can, in fact, choose between `slow' poisoning or sudden death for the rodents that maraud their homes at night.

An immensely popular stock on the shop shelves these days seems to be a piece of cake which contains slow-acting poison. However, one needs to stock up sufficiently to serve these cakes to the rats for a few nights before the results come through.

According to instructions, these cakes are to be placed at transit ways or strategic points where the rat is known to rummage for food. If the cake has vanished the following day, you can smile in the knowledge that the offender has bitten the bait and is sure to return again.

What is more, going by what locals who have been using these cakes, the target rat even invites his immediate circle of friends to the party. Sooner than later, one of these jaunts will turn out to be the last supper of the quite a few marauding rodents. And as value for the money one spends on these cakes, tragedy would have struck the rats long after they had dined at your expense. So there is no messy cleaning up afterwards.

Meanwhile, all this targetting of rats seems to have touched a common chord of concern among animal-lovers and advocates of nature cure.

Naturopaths even scoff at this homicidal approach of the so- called modernists. They disagree with a scheme that advocates large-scale killing of vectors even as they point to the futility of trying to wipe out the species as a preventive measure.

An outraged `back-to-nature' advocate has even dismissed `rat fever' as a scare invented by bulk drug manufacturers to peddle off pills.

By Dinesh Varma M.

Illustration by Varghese Kallada

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