Rats the Size of Cats: Vermin in the Cambodian ProvincesJuly 2, 2013
‘There`s a rat in me kitchen what am I gonna do?’ sang the Brummie pseudo-reggae band UB40 back in the 80’s.
When I moved into my single-story brick-walled shack (quiet out of town setting- where no-one gets married, dies or has loud ceremonies, fully furnished, large garden, short walk from the market), there was a problem with squatters.
A group of rodents were playing happy families within the inner workings of the fridge, nibbling away on the wires. Dreams of cold beers and non-sweaty cheese evaporated with the electric shock, administered the moment the plug met the wall socket – zap!
So there’s a begetting group of rodents in me kitchen – what am I gonna do? Hunt, persecute and destroy each and every one, but, as with the old fable of ‘Belling the cat’ – this is easier said than done.
First of all there is geography and agility. The the bowels of a Toshiba Frost-free refrigerator may well be comfortable, but rats are like the Chinese: they can live anywhere and will eat anything (although rodents don’t have a strict birth limit policy).
After the eviction from their former home (and death by medieval style spring traps for a few of the kids who couldn’t resist peanut butter), Mom and Pops upped sticks and vacated up to the ceiling. With a newfound distrust of peanut butter and spikey metallic objects, I could hear them at night, scuttling with impunity about the ceiling as I tried to get my beauty sleep.
My humble abode is halfway between actually being a house (ceiling, tiled floors and walls) and unfit for human habitation (no sink, a mosquito farm instead of a bathroom), and has one of those sliding old metal shutter doors with a handy rat sized gap at the bottom. Since I spend most evenings at work or propped up at a bar, the unwelcome guests had free access to the outside world and their abode in the roof, happily using my living room as a toilet. A few times I’d return, sliding open the doors and switch on the lights to see daddy rat or his offspring caught in the act.
More spring traps were placed strategically, this time laced with Bovril. Again a few of the less savvy mouse-sized babies met their maker between the spring and razor teeth, but the big ones were always a scurry to smart.
The next move was glue: hideous, barbaric stuff that it is, with helpful instructions in English, written by an unknown author with a grasp of grammar, faith in the product and an obvious slight bent towards sadism;
1. Use a square cardboard or plank having dimensions 12 inches. Apply “The Rat” Adhesive all over the surface of the cardboard except a spot in the centre.
2. A bait which rats have a liking is placed into the empty spot in the board. The cardboard must be left in a convenient dry place frequently visit by rats.
3. The sticking of rats takes only a short while, the caught rats will give a frenzy scream, drawing other curious rats into the trap by the effectiveness of this “The Rat” adhesive.
4. Once a rat is caught, the rat’s hair which is sticking on the sticking plank should be burned. The sticking plank can still be used by adding more adhesive. To prevent the spread of epidemic, the rats should be killed and buried in the ground. This “This Rat” will not destroy the Crops, as it contains adhesive capacity.
What “This Rat” doesn’t say is that it has its own gravitational pull, oozing places and trapping, flies, geckos, roaches, and moreover should definitely never come into contact with human skin, or worse, public hair.
A metal cage trap has lain baited yet untouched. The ‘humane’ option is good in theories for hippies and animal rights enthusiasts, but the question of what to do should a specimen be taken alive isn’t pretty, and probably involves fire and or water.
The unwelcome guests could probably sense that nothing good would come out of walking head first into a grilled metal box, no matter how tasty the morsel on offer is – the overflowing bins full of waste in the street are a safer bet.
Why not go natural and get a cat? First of all I hate cats – theyare loafers and scroungers. Besides, my neighbours have 7 already, who seem have an entente cordiale with the enemy, as they seem free to laze about in the sun and use my garden to crap in.
I got one anyway- a feral kitten. When introduced it hissed, scratched and ran away, never to be seen again. Sod cats.
I’m much more of a dog man, and acquired a strange little pup which grew up to be a hyena/terrier mix. As well as being loyal, smart and a nipper of strangers, the wee mongrel has discovered a new talent pretty early on: it likes to hunt and kill rodents. It also hides the carcasses somewhere to ripen and then enjoys chewing on a fetid, stinking jerky type mouse delicacy. She even cornered and killed the biggest bastard king rat which had been tormenting me with its size, cunning and speed for several months.
The attractive garden also faces a four-foot stretch of open sewer, which makes a handy little rodent bolt-hole in hot season – a holiday camp, in fact – but the wet season rain forces them out to dryer pastures, Pied Piper style.
Demographics plays a huge part – sexually mature at 5 weeks, from boom-boom to babies in 21 days and a habit of increasing breeding rates if a colony is depleted by trap, glue, blue rice poison or dog. Last week I cornered a baby and bludgeoned it with a frying pan, with aid from the dog.
1 rat = 8-15 rats in 8 weeks. One does not need to be a mathematical genius to work out that’s a hell of a lot of spawning vermin. At night they can be spotted, scuttling with impunity in and out of sacks of vegetable waste and snacking on discarded rice. The less fortunate get squished beneath the tyres off a late night moto or a pissed up bong driving his Lexus back from the KTV. They are left, as a warning to others, to dry and get eaten by semi-feral mutts on the street.
The rat originated in Asia, travelling westward to spread disease and disgust humanity with gnawing, scratching and the black bullets which they leave as calling cards. It’s easy to see how they can make Cambodia their spiritual home, what with the easy access to leftovers, open sewers and poorly constructed human houses – the climate and conditions suit them just fine.
BBQ rat on a stick is a common street food, which I once tried on the assurance that it was ‘a country mouse’.
I remain skeptical on the origins of that snack, but I don’t think even hungry Khmers could keep check on the rat populations of Cambodia, and that’s no mean feat, although it might help if they didn’t kill and eat the snakes and owls who dominate this particular field of the food chain.
It’s not just me with a rat problem either. When I eat my breakfast at the little old lady’s stall across the market, I watch them, in broad daylight hurry back and forth around her open house behind.
They rule the markets after dark. A friend who operates one of the more bespoke western restaurants in town had some abject groveling to do when an irate Israeli tourist took a trip to the WC with ended with a surprise Tel Aviv resident/ Khmer giant rat confrontation.
So the war is ultimately unwinnable, yet in Chez Pedro there are pots of ‘blue’ rice, scattered in nooks and crannies – a minefield irresistible to rodents.
There are no more sounds from the ceiling, but still evidence of them being. It’s battle of attrition and maybe if I could only find a big snake……..but somehow keep it out of human sight.