In bizarro world, the feral rat lobby trumps conservation
I wrote the following satirical, bizarro-world news story to illustrate how ridiculous the entire debate over feral cat colonies has become. (See my blog from Sunday, March 17, on that topic here.)
Insert “rat” or “dog” for cat in recent screaming matches over the issue, and the argument ends, doesn’t it? The idea of people maintaining colonies of feral dogs, or rats, or pigs to ravage the landscape is ludicrous, right? Feral cat colonies are every bit as destructive, yet we’re seeing them spread across the country like a virus.
For those who agree that the sky is blue, the sun comes up in the east, and feral cat colonies are an environmental abomination, I hope the following satirical piece elicits a few chuckles.
Everyone else should lighten up.
Birders, rat advocates clash over feral rodent colonies
By Jimmy Threedee
Chaos enveloped the nation’s birding community this week when the National Society of Birders Opposed to Feral Rats fired its longtime field editor. The organization ended its working relationship with Lewis Wilson after an overwhelming email and social media protest from Friendly Rat Colleagues. The animal advocacy group mounted the massive response after Wilson wrote a piece in the North American Picayune lamenting the lack of a viable poison to control rat colonies – thanks, Wilson wrote, to the advocacy of the feral rat lobby.
In a brief press statement, the National Society of Birders Opposed to Feral Rats said, “We can’t be affiliated with anyone who supports the poisoning of rats, but we also want to reassure our membership that we’re definitely not pro-rat.”
Rat enthusiasts cite their rodent-control method, Trap Educate and Release, as significantly more effective than poisoning in reducing the population of free-ranging rats. Friendly Rat Colleague members capture and vaccinate feral rats, then educate the animals on the merits of sexual abstinence before releasing the animals back into the wild. Members provide feeding stations for the rodents, so they maintain the rats are no longer interested in hunting birds or other native fauna while they peacefully live out their days.
“Rats are really smart. Way smarter than these mouth-breathing rat-haters out there,” said Friendly Rat spokesperson Thom Madison. “So after we teach them an acceptable lifestyle, they stop breeding and killing birds and other wildlife.”
Scientists and leaders of other birding and outdoor organizations aren’t so sure. Last year, the National Brownsonian Center completed a multi-year study on exotic rat predation on native wildlife in North America. The research validated other peer-reviewed studies that showed more than 2 billion birds and 12-billion-plus small mammals are killed by free-roaming pet rats and feral rats each year.
“In addition, we know through human history and the fossil record that rats have wiped out populations of birds and other wildlife around the world,” said Pierre St. Pierre, Brownsonian research scientist and the study’s senior author. “Plus, anyone who’s spent more than 10 minutes outside knows the damage rats cause for nesting birds on the ground and in trees alike. In fact, I guess you could say this study was a complete waste of time because all we did was validate the common sense of the average 5-year-old.”
Medical associations also have weighed in, noting that rats carry disease, including bubonic plague, which wiped out one-third of the population of Europe during the Middle Ages.
Madison called the Brownsonian study “part of a continuous propaganda campaign to vilify rats.” She also dismissed any concerns of the nation’s physicians.
“We vaccinate all of the rats we release, and besides, there’s never been proof that rats cause plague,” Madison said. “That’s junk science from the rat-hating platoon.”
Friendly Rats believes the rodents are the offspring of domestic pet rats released by owners no longer able to care for the animals, and they therefore deserve protection.
“In all 50 states, it’s illegal to kill a rat, even one causing damage on your property. That could be someone’s pet!” Madison said.
A National Society of Birders Opposed to Feral Rats spokesperson said the organization would not comment further on the decision and referred additional media inquiries to its “Rats Indoors” education campaign website.
This reporter couldn’t find a birder or environmentalist willing to criticize the birding group’s decision to remove Wilson from its masthead. Fifi Nightengale, editor of Better Birds and Feeders, refused to comment via an email query, noting her publication’s parent company also publishes the popular Rat Fancy magazine. Other birding magazine editors and writers also declined to comment. One, while pleading with this reporter to keep his name private, lamented the greater likelihood of declining bird populations given the growing number of feral rat colonies. Though he personally supports using lethal methods to control feral rats, he feared losing his job for voicing that opinion.
“I wish I could speak on the record, because rats are arguably the No. 1 exotic species in our country, and no one is talking about this,” he said. “We haven’t had a strong voice against feral rats ever since Guenther Teutonic (editor of News of the Outdoor World) spontaneously combusted during a feral rat debate in ’07.”