Central Alberta still rat free

The notorious Norway rat may have evaded borders to set up home in Southern Alberta, but that does not mean the destructive creature has hitched a ride to Central Alberta.

The notorious Norway rat may have evaded borders to set up home in Southern Alberta, but that does not mean the destructive creature has hitched a ride to Central Alberta.

Last week, 19 Norway rats were discovered and destroyed at a Medicine Hat regional landfill in Cypress County. Since that time, more rats have surato nearly 60 as of Thursday afternoon.

The majority of the rats were nesting in a colony in the landfill.

“There’s more,” said Brandy Calvert, spokesperson with the City of Medicine Hat.

“There’s definitely more. That’s the end of it . . . . We know where the colony nest is. We’re keeping them comfortable. We aren’t scaring them but picking them off and getting rid of the bodies so the other rats don’t figure out there’s a plan.”

The infestation has raised concerns that Alberta may lose its rat-free status.

But with no reported sightings of the deadly rodent in Central Alberta, local pest experts say the province is in little danger of losing its title.

In his 10 years with the Red Deer County, Art Preachuk, fieldman and agricultural manager, has only seen one rat and it was a relative of the Norway rat.

“I’ve had one black rat that came in on a truck at one of the industrial parks,” said Preachuk. “It was taken care of. They found it dead.”

The county receives about six calls a year from residents who think they have spotted the rodent. They have brought in wood rats, pocket gophers and muskrats for inspection.

The Norway rat is about 15 to 20 cm (six to eight inches) long, hairless and has a long, slender tail. Preachuk and his staff take courses on how to identify the rodent but most have come face to face with the rodent in other provinces.

“I come from Manitoba,” said Preachuk.

“They’ve got lots of them in their landfills. They are very hard to get rid of once you get them in there.”

And nobody wants rats. The destructive creature multiples rapidly and can chew through pretty much everything including buildings. They destroy and contaminate crops, stored grains and other food sources. There’s also a risk to human health. Rats can carry diseases and pass on to humans.

In the 1950s, the province implemented a rat eradication program that includes a “rat patrol” of agricultural fieldman that guards the eastern border between Alberta and Saskatchewan from Norway rats.

The program has been relatively successful with only isolated reports at landfills and other sites in the province. The clever rats are known to catch rides on vehicles and trains, so it may not be unusual to spot a rat in areas far from the eastern border.

Municipalities and counties take the threat of the rat seriously. Agricultural fieldman and animal patrol officers will investigate every call that comes into their offices.

“With all the work that is being done by the rat patrol program, I don’t think we’re in jeopardy at all (of losing the rat-free status),” said Jay Byer, Stettler assistant agricultural fieldman. “We nipped this infestation in the bud.”

Byer said they receive about three or four calls a year. They look for signs of chewing, droppings and travel pathways. Byer said there not have been any positive identification of rats in Stettler.

Duane Thomas, Animal Services director of enforcement for the City of Red Deer, said they have not received a call of a potential sighting for about six months. Generally the call volume picks up in the spring and fall when muskrat are migrating from one pond to another and end up crossing the road. Because of the similar tails, muskrats are often mistaken for the Norway rat.

“(People) automatically think rat,” said Thomas. “We do get a lot of calls. Usually that time of year we do see an increase. We go there and sure enough it is a muskrat.”

Thomas said Alberta will continue to be relatively rat-free but there will always be isolated cases of rats popping up because the border is not completely closed to everything. He said the province is on top of it right away when there is a positive identification.

“The program is basically controlling what is found and eradicating what they have found,” said Thomas. “They have been very successful in doing that in the last 60 years.”