Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Sunday Times : Rats alive

The Sunday Times
By Cheryl Faith Wee
4th August 2013

Pest control people are combing Tiong Bahru to get rid of the rats that have infested the estate

An exterminator checks drains (above) and burrows in Tiong Bahru where the rodents (below) were spotted. -- ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Tiong Bahru estate is well known for its hip eateries and shops. It is now also home to a growing rat population.

The Straits Times reported last Monday that more rodents have been spotted there in the last six months. So SundayLife! accompanied a team of four exterminators from The Pestman on their rounds there last Thursday.

The pest management company is hired by Tanjong Pagar Town Council to do pest control in Tiong Bahru.

The exterminators pointed out eight burrows with rats living in them: three in Eng Hoon Street, near a coffee shop; two burrows in Moh Guan Terrace, near a cafe; and one burrow each near ground-floor apartments in Chay Yang Street and Kim Pong Road.

Mr Nur Muhammad, 31, The Pestman's project manager for pest control in Tiong Bahru, said these burrows are mostly located in grass turfs near drains.

The entrances are small holes that lead to up to 6m-long tunnels about 1m below ground level. Each burrow normally has two entrances and houses six to eight rats. If not dealt with, a litter of six rats can multiply to more than 1,200 rats in one year, he said.

The National Environment Agency found 26 rat burrows in Tiong Bahru last month, up from 16 the previous month. Of these, The Pestman said only eight burrows have rodents living in them.

According to the Singapore Pest Management Association, areas near eateries, wet markets and sundry shops are susceptible to rodent infestation. So the increase in the number of rats in Tiong Bahru could be due to the growing number of F&B outlets there. There are now about 30 eateries in the area, up from about 20 five years ago.

Rodents can contaminate foodstuff and damage things such as doors and electrical wires, which can result in short circuits and fires. They can spread diseases too.

Once every two weeks, a four-man team from The Pestman will trawl the 57 pre- and post-war HDB blocks in the estate that are managed by the Tanjong Pagar Town Council.

They rely on sight to locate the rat burrows, so the inspections are carried out in the day. The men look out for traces of the rodents such as gnaw marks, footprints, droppings and urine.

If they cannot locate the burrows in the day, they make another trip at night, when the nocturnal animals are most active. Armed with flashlights, they examine drains and dark corners where rats lurk in the hope that they can track down their dwelling places.

On average, the exterminators find five to six active burrows in the estate during their routine checks every month.

Two methods are used to treat and seal the burrows. First, solid Roban rat poison is placed in the opening of the burrows. This causes internal bleeding in rats and kills them within one to two days.

Rodent tracking powder is sometimes used instead of the solid poison. This sticks to the rats' fur and is ingested when they groom themselves.

The exterminators return to put more poison two to three times every two to three days. Then, the opening of the burrow is plugged with wads of newspaper. About three days later, the exterminators check for activity. If the holes are found to be unplugged, it means the burrow is still active and the procedure is repeated.

When the newspaper is no longer dislodged from the hole, it means the burrow is inactive.

Flies hovering near the burrow holes are a sign that the critters inside are dead. Rodents that manage to make their way out of the burrows die near their homes. During SundayLife!'s visit, there were no dead rats to be seen. The holes also remained plugged with newspaper.

Still, residents say they have noticed more rats in their estate in the past two years or so.

Rodent sightings are a daily occurrence for Madam Khoo Oi Neo, 76, a housewife who has lived in a ground-floor apartment in Eng Hoon Street for close to 60 years.

She said: "There are so many that when they scurry around in the grass patches in front of my house, they look like they are queuing up."

SundayLife! did not see any rats during our visit during the day, but we spotted three rats in Tiong Bahru Market after 10pm.

Some new eatery owners have taken measures to keep their establishments pest-free.

Ms Debra Chan, 33, who owns PoTeaTo cafe in Yong Siak Street, hires a pest control company to carry out monthly checks at her eatery. She also makes sure her staff secure bags of refuse tightly and keep bins closed.

Mr Khoo Chee Wee, 40, co-founder of bakery Dough & Grains in Seng Poh Road, also ensures his staff dispose of garbarge properly. They walk several streets to the refuse centre near the end of Tiong Poh Road if the bins nearer to the shop are full.

But some long-time residents of Tiong Bahru are unfazed by the recent reports of rats. Madam Alice Wong, 58, who repairs shoes for a living, has lived in Moh Guan Terrace for more than 30 years.

She said: "Decades ago, the carpark behind my block had so many rats that people did not dare to park there. Things are a lot better now."