Hartford tests rat birth control to reduce rapidly multiplying rodent population
HARTFORD, Connecticut – The Connecticut capital is testing a gentler, gentler approach to reducing the rat population in Bushnell Park, with a strategy straight out of school sex education.
Each week, Hartford fills 30 lunchbox-sized bait stations with contraception to stop rodents from doing what they do best: multiplying, at a rapid rate. Left unchecked, a pair of brown rats can produce 1,250 offspring in a year – too big a continuing problem for cities to control poison and other deadly forms of pest control.
After decades of addiction to rat poison and more recent use of dry ice, Hartford has joined cities like Washington, DC, San Francisco and Los Angeles to roll out the sweet-tasting, high-fat ContraPest, a liquid contraceptive that temporarily makes male and female rats less fertile.
This approach also avoids the traps of the poison – that the rats that eat it and survive build up a resistance that they pass on to future generations, while others are smart enough to avoid the food sources that have made other rats sick. .
“At the end of the day, you’re never going to get them all and those left behind are either smarter or more resilient,” said Ken Siegel, CEO of SenesTech, the Arizona-based company behind ContraPest. “You find yourself in a vicious cycle. “
Over time, birth control reduces and maintains the number of rats, according to SenesTech, who developed the product for use in agriculture, zoos, animal sanctuaries and cities.
Contraceptives also pose less risk to the environment than rat poison, which can be just as toxic to pets and wildlife. Long-term studies are underway, but Siegel says his product contains low levels of the active ingredients and they leave the rat system quickly.
It is “very unlikely,” he said, that ContraPest will have any effect on the neighborhood hawks and cats that prey on rats.
Hartford began piloting the rat contraceptive in the spring, targeting the 37-acre Bushnell Park where people have held picnics throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and have flocked in the thousands this year to the return of concerts and festivals.
A state grant funded the initial pilot program in Hartford.
The city had hoped to start the pilot in spring 2020, but it was delayed by the health crisis.
Now, more than three months into the program, the first signs point to success, says Siegel.
Bait consumption is high at the park’s 30 stations, and rat sightings and citizen complaints have dropped dramatically, he said. Over the next few months, Siegel said he hopes to see the rat burrows disappear.
He couldn’t provide any statistics and said SenesTec is still exploring how best to measure the amount of bait rats drink.
Hartford is only the second city on the east coast to use ContraPest, one of several producers of rat contraception. The company’s first customer on this coast was the nation’s capital, where a four-month study showed rat populations declined by 51% to 88% in targeted areas.
“Hartford was the first after Washington to put up his hand and say, ‘We’re ready to go,’ but we’re still talking to others in New England,” Siegel said.
DC expanded its use of birth control in rats last summer.
Siegel said he hopes Hartford will also expand beyond Bushnell Park into areas with restaurants and housing, especially places where restaurant closures during the pandemic have forced rats to seek new sources. food and shelter.
“Now is a great time to take care of them as rats become more diverse,” Siegel said.
Like any city, Hartford has always struggled to control its rodent population. But Hartford’s health director Liany Arroyo said the problem appeared to be getting worse during the pandemic as restaurant dumpsters were suddenly empty and most people were at home, resulting in more observations.
There was also a period of a few months in the summer of 2020 when the city was not baiting rats at all due to a shortage of inspectors, Arroyo confirmed.
This was temporary and the use of rat poison and dry ice continued in addition to the rat birth control pilot, she said.
The city has also replaced rat poisons this year to counter resistance to rodenticides, and inspectors are using different strategies to drive the bait deeper into rodent burrows, where it should be more effective, Arroyo said.
Article by Rebecca Lurye, Hartford Courant.