Andre Pittman and Gregory Cornes are on a mission. They want to rid Washington, D.C., of vermin. Their target isn’t shady politicians: It’s Rattus Norvegicus, the common rat.
Mild winters and a human population boom are fueling a capital rat invasion. On the front lines are Pittman and Cornes, veteran Health Department employees. One day, they’re within sight of the Capitol Building, shoveling dry ice pellets into rat burrows. Another day, they’re battling an outbreak six blocks from the White House.
“Rats adapt to everything,” Pittman says, calling them “geniuses.”
Rats, spiders, snakes. God made vermin for various reasons. Some control pests; others aid human science experimentation. Aren’t you glad God thought of everything? “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31)
Pittman and Cornes poke around a churchyard, spotting telltale holes and matted dirt trails, sure-fire signals of rat burrows. Cornes injects poison into a hole, while Pittman watches to see if white powder puffs up from other holes. If so, he shovels dirt to block those exits.
While D.C. doesn’t boast the famous New York City subway behemoths (remember the pizza-toting rat of “Rising Rat Population?”), D.C. rat numbers are on the rise. Last September, a viral video showed security camera footage of a rat pulling a fire alarm, forcing the evacuation of an apartment building.
Gerard Brown, head of Washington’s rodent control department, blames a string of gentle winters for allowing rodents to breed constantly. Without an extended freeze to limit the food supply, a mature mama rat can give birth to a litter a month—with an average of 10 babies per litter. . . . Do the math!
Another problem includes more multiplication: Washington’s growing population. “More people with more money means more restaurants, which means more garbage, which means more rat food,” Brown says.
Urban rodentologist Robert Corrigan recommends a radical solution: night trash pickups. Since rats are night owls, morning trash collection “plays right into the hands of the rats,” Corrigan says.
But D.C. officials say nocturnal pickups would be almost impossible because of staffing issues and late-night noise concerns.
At one treatment site, Pittman and Cornes locate a problem: uncovered garbage and compost containers surrounded by black pellets.
“See all these droppings?” Pittman asks the building manager. “This stuff has got to go.”
The only real solution to this rat race? Human behavior.
“You’re only as good as your neighbor,” Corrigan says. “You can have 10 beautiful houses in a row and if number 11 is a slob, everybody suffers.”