An Irishman, a Screwdriver and a Phnom Penh Rat

Posted on by Dermot Sheehan


As you might expect in a sweltering tropical climate, creatures of all sorts abound here. The city center is a bit barren; it has plenty of trees but not much else as most ground is built on or paved and there aren’t so many opportunities for wildlife.

Of course, like any city around the world, there are the rats and cockroaches. These are commonly spotted flitting from one drain hole to the next, in all sorts of neighborhoods. While most modern concrete buildings can keep rodents out, cockroaches can fly and so can get in almost anywhere. The cockroaches you see in town seem to be rarer in rural areas, perhaps because of higher concentrations of predators.

Both rats and mice are called “gondaw” here. This may perhaps be because unlike where I grew up, there aren’t two clearly distinct types, there seem to be quite a few, and it can be difficult to tell whether some are actually large mice or juvenile rats. Many seem to grow to a much larger size than the city rats common in colder climes and there are also many other similar jungle and paddy rats around.

A while back, I heard a bit of a rumpus in the front yard. Weird squealing sounds and excited chatting. The house backs onto a wetland, and due to a lot of garbage being thrown straight into the lake it’s hardly surprising that there are a lot of pests around.

Because of the scale of the problem which extends for many kilometers, no one tidy individual could make any difference to this.

Exterminating the rats in one area may result in short- term gains, but their places will quickly be taken by other rats from nearby. I’ve tried using poison. It can work very well as far as killing them goes, but the problem is that you don’t have any control over where they are going to die. They tend to die in inaccessible spots, writhing in agony, in cavities around your house, and they soon stink really badly, so sometimes it’s better to trap them.

Anyway, back to the rumpus, it was just a large rat that had been caught in one of the old fellah’s spring cage-traps. He was trying to kill it by stabbing it with a piece of coat-hanger wire and it was screaming with pain but the wire was bending and although it could just have given in it wouldn’t. After a few minutes of him trying to corner the bouncing and bleeding rat by trapping it against the cage with the wire, he caught it a few times in various appendages, but there was no mortal wound.

I was getting a bit sickened by all this brutality, so I suggested a better tool. There was a solid- looking screwdriver nearby, so I grabbed that and switched the heads around from flat to cross-head. This thing wasn’t going to bend, but after a while I still couldn’t seem to nail the rodent.

I suggested dunking the whole cage in some water to drown it, but that was rejected as disgusting. So he proceeded with stabbing the rat, which was bleeding from about six places by now, but the beast still wasn’t dying.

The noise was driving me nuts, it wouldn’t goddamn shut up and it wouldn’t just die. The old fellah finally gave up, picked up the cage, walked across the street, and dumped the mashed-up but still very much alive creature into the ditch across the road, perhaps as a humanitarian gesture.

I’m a bit worried that that one might come back.

Demot Sheehan

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One Response to An Irishman, a Screwdriver and a Phnom Penh Rat

  1. Moody Mac says:

    Reminds me of the time my old man caught a possum in wire cage trap. Mum had banned guns on the property, so the old man was forced to come up with another solution. In his workshop he rigged up a barbaric device consisting of an old electric extension cord and a transformer with a dial. He connected the two wires of the extension cord to the cage, and turned the dial.

    Sparks, smoke, burning hair, and one very alive but singed possum. In disgust at his own incompetence and cruelty the old man carried the cage to the water trough and threw it in.

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