A rat 'genocide' is going down in Paris
It was any tourist's cotton-candied daydream. My date and I had found ourselves under the Eiffel Tower with a French baguette, Roquefort cheese and a bottle of the finest - OK, the most affordable - Cabernet Sauvignon. The night-time light show was about to begin, romance was in the air and we were well on track to expose ourselves as a couple of the most clichéd tourists you could possibly find. But things don't always go the way you plan them - even when you have a meticulously planned, deeply passionate, vacation itinerary.
We'd only been there for a total of 10 minutes when my date sprung to his feet faster than you could say "au revoir". What exactly had gone down in the last 0.4 seconds? Were his taste buds not keen on the cheese I had chosen? Was my dodgy French accent too much to stomach? Did I just not have the je ne sais quoi that he was looking for in a lady?
Rather than any of those things, instead it turned out to be the rat licking its paws only a metre away. Yes, that's right. Our blissful moment had been intruded upon by none other than a creeping rodent. Five minutes later we saw another one, and then a third crawling horror soon after that.
But what came as an unwelcome disturbance to us was a typical occurrence to those who reside in the City of Love. Paris is in the midst of a ratastrophe, and it seems they are fighting a losing battle. The capital's rat population is thought to have exploded to more than four million, roughly about two grey-brown scoundrels for every one of the 2.3 million city dwellers. The worst rodent infestation in centuries has forced areas to shut down, and caused desperate authorities staff to surrender numerous nights' sleep to racking their brains to find a solution.
Their answer to the crisis is one that most of us would jump straight to: Complete extermination. Multiple news outlets including The Telegraph have reported that Paris authorities are spending £14 million this year alone on "deratisation". However, to many people's surprise, this tactic hasn't gone down so well with a lot of Parisians. Rather than being pleased that the powers that be are taking the threat seriously, thousands of residents have declared it "rat genocide". These are the same people who denounce City Hall's "rat phobia," questioning why the long-tailed animals need to be killed and insisting that if you added a bushy tail, you'd have something akin to the widely adored squirrel.
Clinical psychologist Josette Benchetrit was so passionate about the issue that she set up a petition protesting against the widespread murder. Amazingly, her project has garnered almost 26,000 signatures, making it clear that at least a portion of Paris' 2.244 million residents will not stand for rat genocide.
Benchetrit explained her cause to VT, claiming that fear of rats is a "mental illness". "The fear or horror from rats is a mental illness of our society and actually of almost all societies," she said. "The phobia is maintained by the rat catchers who earn millions of euros by killing them. The methods are atrocious and painful."
Benchetrit, who claims Leptospirosis is the only disease that can be passed on to humans, continued: "Rats, like all commensal animals, aren't rubbish to be thrown away. They are living, sensitive, conscious beings. They are more empathetic than humans and even have a sense of humour! They are animals that should be respected like all others, and they should not be tortured. They are born here and they have the right to continue to live here, like all citizens.
"The petition has almost 26,000 signatures but the mayor has not responded. She hates me like she hates animals. She takes advantage of the fact that welfare is non-violent, a trait which is both our dignity and our cowardice. Because in what way are we better than the people who lived near Nazi concentration camps and said nothing?"
Although her viewpoint certainly won't be understood by everyone, Josette has been backed by thousands of comments online that claim rats deserve more careful consideration and that they even help society by cleaning pipes with their fur and disposing of waste for us. One rat-advocate even stated: "Let’s eliminate socialists instead, they’re much more harmful for Paris." Among the thousands of supporters is the Green mayor of the capital’s 2nd arrondissement, Jacques Boutault, who joined the ranks of the pro-rat crusade recently. He has spoken out about the situation, claiming: “The law stipulates that all animals are living, sentient beings. We should be asking ourselves why we need to wipe out rats.”
So, are authorities out of line for attempting a total wipeout? Or do the rats need to be run out of France in true Napoleonic fashion?
As famous as the city is for its enchanting architecture, world-class food and promise of romance, what escapes many tourists' attention is the fact that rodents have always been a part of its tapestry. Paris has had a rat problem since its very beginning. Yet the thing that liberals are perhaps overlooking is that universal despise is potentially justifiable, emerging from the deaths of 25 million people. In the 14th century, the creatures wreaked havoc upon Parisians' lives when they brought the bubonic plague across the Mediterranean, killing an estimated 100,000 residents: somewhere between a third and a half of the population at the time. As one would expect, the fatal incident left the locals with a lifelong aversion to the dreaded creatures.
So, how do the rat supporters suggest we deal with the problem? Petition leader Benchetrit believes that the solution to the issue could possibly lie in ContraPest, a product she claims "decreases the population of rats in a civilised way". The SenesTech invention works by targeting the root cause of Paris' trouble: reproduction. It is a non-lethal compound that is placed in a liquid bait for rodents, who are capable of reproducing every three weeks. After a few weeks of consuming it, both male and female rats become infertile, yet continue to lead normal lives. The oral sterilisation was tested in New York this year, and if Paris' rat champions have anything to do with it, it will be in Europe soon.
But for now, with the rat population now firmly outnumbering Parisians, it's no wonder that city-goers are losing their patience with the rodents marching the streets. Paris City Hall have put all of their best efforts into eradicating the plague of rats who emphatically refuse to stay underground. Yet, while years ago officials were able to put down lethal pellets in rat burrows or sprinkle poison power along the underground byways, European law makes things a little more difficult nowadays.
Using old methods could contaminate the city's water supply or the pellets could be ingested by domestic animals, so new laws have been brought in to stop these well-worn methods from being used. Now the EU dictates that the poison must be secured in a bait station, small black plastic box, and must be sought out by the rat. Unfortunately, though, this method is not nearly as successful as the former, with one city worker telling The New York Times that he had only found four dead rats in two to three weeks.
This brings an uncomfortable thought to the forefront of rat-haters' minds. The thing is, they may not win this battle. Rather than extermination, it could be domination for the pink-nosed creatures. Give it a few years and they could even become the new pigeons of the world, no doubt still irritating for some, but nonetheless accepted in society.
And, if you ask rat-advocates, this is exactly how it should be. According to them, it's high time we all recognised rodents' right to live. But, despite their protestations, something tells me that there's little chance of them clawing their way into the greater public's hearts.
Featured illustration by Egarcigu