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Rats in NYC: The city goes to battle against 'reservoirs' where the vermin breed

Midway through a walking tour of a rat-infested few blocks on the Lower East Side, Caroline Bragdon stopped at a modern office building. With trimmed bushes, a clean sidewalk, and no trace of trash, it did not appear to be a safe haven for rats.

A deeper look inside a wood planter sprouting a trail of vines, however, revealed a telltale hole -- a rat burrow.

That discovery served to underscore a point Bragdon, a rat expert with the Health Department, had made earlier: Given shelter, a nearby food source and water, the city rat finds a way.

The city has embarked on an aggressive new pilot program that targets so-called "rat reservoirs" where the rascally rodents congregate and breed like mad. Unlike previous efforts to control rats, this one focuses on neighborhoods and blocks. So far, a patch of blocks near Avenue B and Second Avenue on the Lower East Side is the first to be targeted under the over $600,000 program.

The city has also tentatively identified parts of the Bronx near Yankee Stadium and the Grand Concourse, as well as sections of Northern Manhattan to be targeted.

Health officials say the city handles about 20,000 rat complaints and 100,000 rat inspections a year.

Here's what else we learned about how the city is identifying and working to drain rat reservoirs.

The power of a covered trashcan

The first stop on the tour is at
Photo Credit: Cristian Salazar

The first stop on the tour is at a park in the neighborhood -- Bragdon has asked that we not name it or any other location so as not to embarrass the property owners. She quickly points out a fenced-in patch of grass near the corner of Avenue B and Second Street that's pockmarked with holes. These are active rat burrows, she says, which can be identified by their smooth and well-worn edges. "We used to count 10 to 12 rat burrows in this area," she said. "Now there's only three burrows that are highly active." The reason? She says covered trashcans were recently placed in close proximity, cutting off a crucial source of food.

Holes everywhere

The tour continues.
Photo Credit: Cristian Salazar

The tour continues. "We're looking for the burrows, the holes and the cracks that allow rats easy travel," Bragdon says. We stop at a red door to a restaurant, where Bragdon points to a space between the door and its frame. "Rats only need a size of a quarter" to get through, she says. One goal of the pilot program is to work with property owners to make fixes that will deny entrance to rats.

Rats love catch basins

Catch basins are prime hideouts for rats. Water
Photo Credit: Cristian Salazar

Catch basins are prime hideouts for rats. Water that flushes down the street, carrying refuse, is a prime source of food. Bragdon says health inspectors on the hunt for rodents are constantly asking, "Where is their daily meal?" A closer look at this catch basin revealed hairs left behind by the rats.

Plastic bags are no barrier to rats

About a dozen bags of trash congregated on

About a dozen bags of trash congregated on the curb outside a school, filled with empty cans of spaghetti sauce, dirty foam meal trays, scraps of watermelon. "The bag isn't really a barrier," Bragdon said. Nearby was a patch of grass where rats had burrowed. "A well-fed female rate will continue to reproduce," she said. And it isn't just the bags of trash that are a problem. "The sidewalk has to be scrubbed down," she said. "You can't leave residues of garbage."

This guy is doing it right

Bragdon said the Health Department loves to see

Bragdon said the Health Department loves to see property owners washing down the sidewalks outside their businesses.

An unlikely hiding spot

Here's a look at the planter that Bragdon

Here's a look at the planter that Bragdon pointed out midway through the tour. It looks nice enough ... But a close inspection revealed a burrow.

Construction sites aren?t all bad

A common complaint about construction sites is that
Photo Credit: Cristian Salazar

A common complaint about construction sites is that they cause rats to spread. But Bragdon says the real problem is all the equipment that can be stored at a construction site. "If there's clutter, littler, all those things conducive to rats, yes, you see them," she says.

Ten to 12 rats per nest

Bragdon ends the tour at a strip of

Bragdon ends the tour at a strip of greenery on Houston Street, where she points to lots of burrows. Too many burrows to count and see. It's one of the chronically infested areas of the neighborhood. Each burrow can contain between 10 and 12 rats. She says the city's new pilot program aims to remove harborage, food sources and aggressively treat burrows. She says they are confident they can reduce rats in parks with these three strategies. "We're not making any claims that this will impact the city as a whole," she says.

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