Tuesday, September 26, 2006

How Many Rats Are There in New York?

One rat for every person in New York City? It's myth, says the New York Times. Yeah, I believe that it's myth -- I would have thought that the number is much higher. If I read that there were 10 rats here for every New Yorker, I'd believe it. But that's not what the paper is saying at all:
As Robert Sullivan noted in his 2004 book, "Rats," a naturalist named David E. Davis analyzed New York's rat population in 1949 and called the one-rat-per-human statistic absurd. (The statistic had come from 19th-century England and was never more than a guess.)
But with all the garbage in New York, isn't there an endless supply of food?

This reminds me of a misunderstanding a friend told me about years ago. He and another guy were talking about prostitution and the other guy quotes a statistic he'd read saying something like one in four American men had paid for sex. My friend, thinking that that number was way too high, said "No way! I don't believe it." The other guy says, "Yeah, that's way too low!" My friend was dumbfounded.

Why did these two have such different ideas about how common visits to hookers are in the U.S.? The guy who thought most men visit ladies of the night at least once in their lives served in the Army, where such behavior is common (or at least it was for this guy).

I haven't read Sullivan's book, but a statistic commonly quoted from it says that "Male and female rats may have sex twenty times a day. A female can produce up to twelve litters of twenty rats a year: one pair of rats has the potential for 15,000 descendants in a year." And they don't outnumber us? His book's full title is Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants. In an
interview with online bookseller Powells, Sullivan said:
"We think rats are disgusting, but they're not. They're just another creature. It's not their fault they live in our garbage. In fact, our garbage is our fault, if there's any fault. The reason people are so disgusted by rats is that rats point to what is disgusting about us. We always have to have something bad in our sights to highlight our goodness. You need evil so that good can exist. Really, in nature, it can seem evil, but it's not."

There was a great article in the Times in August about a pair of dogs (owned by different people) who hunt rats and mice on New York's Upper West Side. The dogs -- a big Labrador/Pit Bull named Oscar and a tiny Cairn terrier named Paxil gleefully stalk, flush out, and slaughter rats and mice in garbage piles and alleys. When I looked for the article, the Times insisted I pay $5 to read it. Fortunately, big pharma has come to the rescue. A blog, called "Online Paxil News Blog", posted the full article: "The Starsky and Hutch of West 74th Street", presumably because the little dog's name is Paxil. I'm guessing the autobots that feed the blog don't care if the news isn't about drugs.

Some good passages from the article:
"Paxil and Oscar do their hunting late at night, during their last walks of the day. They began their crusade a couple of years ago, when they met in Riverside Park and prey was abundant. Paxil is an expert at flushing rats out of their hiding places. When she does, if they're small enough, she'll grab one and shake it until its neck snaps."
"In the two years they've been hunting, Paxil has dispatched nine rats, and mice beyond counting. Oscar's tally is 22. Not an enormous number altogether, but for them I don't think it's as much about exterminating as about hunting. Both have the instinct built into their breeds, and merely follow the urge to do the work expected of them."


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