17 November 2017

New York Rat Safari

Urban environment feature | PPC89 November 2017

Andy Beckmann organises one of the largest pest management trade shows in Europe, Pest-Protect. While researching other trade-shows around the world, Andy has seen many weird and wonderful things. In this guest article, Andy tells us about his adventures on Bobby Corrigan’s urban rat safari. 

Rat safari in new york

After registering for the New York Global Summit, I started to go through the usual marketing materials of associated events to see if anything caught my eye. There was a scheduled rat excursion in the evening. I raised my eyebrow.

Yeah, sure – you can plan the encounter with rats in an excursion.If only it were that simple.

I thought of the numerous press and documentary makers, who optimistically accompany pest controllers to get rat footage. They climb down the sewers with beating hearts and then end up having to film rats in the laboratory instead.

Most probably this tour was to Central Park and back, like a gorilla-excursion in the jungles of Africa. The kind where the participants stand around in the damp-heat completely amazed by their surroundings, although the desired animal is nowhere to be seen.

I read further. The excursion was to be led by Bobby Corrigan. That was interesting. I have met him countless times. The man is a gifted speaker and a goldmine of knowledge.

Okay, rather than senselessly sitting in an expensive restaurant and pouring alcohol into my system, I’ll try a rat safari instead.

The adventure begins

There were 15 of us that found ourselves listening to the deeds of ‘the rat king’, as Bobby is described by the New York pest control scene.

We didn’t have to walk for long.

On the crossroad, Bobby stopped and showed us an open rubbish container. And where there are open bins, rats are only a short way away. Protected by darkness and with rising temperatures during the daytime, the rats had climbed out from the drains and were finding rich food stocks in the bins.

Bobby in his element. The open garbage containers are a feast for the rats.

It’s easy to see why a city of around 12 million people has a problem with the removal of the rubbish. It’s the cultural peculiarities: fast foods, oversupply, the size of the portions, the consumer mentality. The city’s disposal unit was barely visible beneath the piling mountain of rubbish.

There is a permanent space problem in New York. This is a city where 30 minutes of parking costs $12.50 after all. There is almost no refuge space, specialised storage or closed containers.

The never-ending rubbish pile is replacing refuse containers.

On the street it seemed like every day was like bin day. Except that in NYC the bins were replaced with black sacks and every building housed at least a football team’s worth of rubbish makers.

The refuse collector drove through New York in the evening. Every day.

The blind stupor of a city. Even in the day there is rubbish on the street. Every bag contains on average 7kg of possible food – enough to feed more than a hundred rats per day.

Bobby teaches at the university and seems to know about every study ever conducted on rats in New York. The scientific statistics on the garbage bags has shown that in every rubbish bag there is on average 7kg of possible food for the rats.

The daily food need of a single rat is only around 25g. I was sickened.

Some streets have district heating pipes in or near the sewers. There the rats are abundant. You can see the orange chimneys everywhere.

All that glitters is not gold

We went further to Central Park. Under the banks and near the overflowing rubbish bins were food scraps.

In the ivy there were rat trails clearly visible like a brown scar.

Bobby showed us blobs on the concrete. The blobs were more or less round with a long top. The loo of a rat. When rats urinate, they start running before they’re finished. That’s why they make a moist trail behind them.

We stood stunned in the middle of a big city jungle around a moist urine blob. They were everywhere.

When you think about it, the Japanese have it right when they take off their shoes before entering a house. I was even more sickened.

We had it all in the bag

In the subway rats are not so common. But Bobby knows where to find them.

In the metro, we saw our rats.

Bobby explained this was somewhat unusual as the train tracks were very draughty. The supply rooms of the cleaning department in the underground were the favorite place of the rats.

Our last station led us to a district with a higher concentration of restaurants. On the streets above there were rubbish piles.

The rats run directly beneath our feet under the canal gutter and they have the choice. Pizza or Chinese?

After a couple more jokes and scientific anecdotes we noticed something: some of the bags were moving. It was particularly lively under the water rust directly beneath the containers.

Undisturbed by the commotion of our group, the rats were coming out of the drains and darting here and there, between the bags.

Some garbage bags are moving. There are some eyes. I feel like I’m being watched.

After the successful excursion, there was a lot of discussion in the bar as to what an unsupervised (and probably unmanageable) hotspot of rats could mean.

We all agreed that it was a time bomb. If the rats of New York contract a serious zoonotic disease they will spread it through three airports to the whole globe by air. Before anyone even knows it, there would be a pandemic – not a good thought.

The whole experience left me thinking and with a queasy feeling.


Pest-Protect is a trade show for professionals in the pest management, disinfection, and plant, wood and commodity protection sectors. The next show will be held in Bremen on 24-25 January 2018.


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Andy BeckmannAndy Beckmann

16 November 2017  |  PPC89

Source: PPC89