It’s been almost five months since Melbourne first went into coronavirus lockdown, and the city’s rats have been rising to the occasion: expanding their territories, breaking into shuttered businesses, and eating in closed restaurants at all hours of the day.
This is according to frontline pest control workers and rat-catchers, who are reporting a significant uptick in rodent activity in the months since March.
“Thank God we’re essential workers, otherwise we’re going to have the rats and mice taking over,” Protech Pest Control owner Muzi Tsolakis told Fairfax. “I had a client, he’s seen them coming through drains and coming out and roaming into the streets. Into the high-rises as well.
“They are going crazy.”
Simon Dixon, owner of pest control company Exopest, made a similar observation, claiming that “the rats and mice have free rein to run and eat where they want. They can dine at [restaurant] tables without customers”.
Dixon points out that while previously the rats would only come out at night when the restaurants were closed, the permanent shuttering of establishments in the CBD means the rodents have a 24-hour licence to feed during both day and night.
A third rat-catcher noted, however, that the closure of eateries in the heart of the city has had another effect on the animals’ behaviours, with swarms of rats now looking further afield for places to eat. And they’re heading for the outer suburbs.
“Cafes and restaurants is where they usually get their food from," said Tim Clinnick, owner of Pest Control Empire. "But with the bulk of them closed down or restricted to take away, it’s a bit light on for food at the moment. So they are pushing into suburbia."
Melbourne isn’t the first Australian city to be facing a COVID-inspired rat uprising. Back in May, veteran rat-catcher Geoff Milton told The Guardian that coronavirus restrictions in Sydney were driving rat hordes into the city’s suburban areas. Milton forebodingly warned at the time that once restrictions loosened again and food sources returned to the CBD, there would “probably be a new plague of rats take over the city. But a lot of the ones that are left unattended in suburbia will stay there.”
Of all the upsetting parts to this story, however, perhaps most disturbing is the expert assurance that starving rats in vacated cities have likely turned to cannibalism to sustain themselves.
In May, Professor Peter Banks, a rodent expert from the University of Sydney, told The Guardian that after restaurants and bars were locked up and vacated, large populations of city rats that were wholly dependent on bin scraps very likely started eating one another in a matter of days.
“If they produce babies they can’t support, they kill them. Or one of their relatives comes in and kills them,” he explained. “They will eat other rats that die, for sure… They will not let a meal of another rat go by.”