Rat invasion in east Wichita neighborhood seen as a community problem

A Norway rat.
A Norway rat. Courtesy of Food and Drug Administration

The man lives in Woodlawn Village, an east Wichita neighborhood appreciated for its tall oaks, solid homes, solid property values.

But he’s got a furry – potentially gnawing – problem.

Rats have invaded his backyard — and his neighbors’ yards — brazenly scurrying around, even during the day.

In the past two months, he has trapped 42 of the pests. These aren’t little mice. They’re up to 10 inches long including the tails.

He’s not alone in this rat invasion – which a pest-control business says poses a serious community health problem that needs government attention.

Rats “are no different than four-legged burglars with bad intentions, carrying communicable diseases,” said Bill Hawks, president of Hawks Inter-State Pestmasters.

Neighbors contacted by The Eagle said they have been in their homes for more than a decade but have never experienced a rat problem before.

City and county departments said they hadn’t heard of the infestation.

A spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Agriculture confirmed that an investigator was in Wichita last week responding to a complaint about whether a rat poison being used is an approved product. But she wouldn’t provide details, saying it is an ongoing investigation. It’s not clear whether the rat-poison issue is related to the neighborhood invasion.

Along with the 42 rats in one yard, two of the man’s neighbors trapped almost 30 rats recently.

According to social media posts, rats are being spotted around the neighborhood, with houses ranging in value from $150,000 to more than $500,000 for the more sprawling homes. Woodlawn Village, built around 1955 to 1965, stretches east from Woodlawn and north from Central.

According to the posts, people in the neighborhood are trapping rats, trying to poison them, shooting them with pellet guns.

When the man went to a hardware store recently to buy rat traps – a larger version of a mouse trap – he saw another customer doing the same thing. The second man said he was trying to combat rats in another nearby neighborhood.

Bailey Thurman, a shift leader at Westlake Ace Hardware just west of Woodlawn Village, said Thursday: “We have a lot of people complaining about rats this year. Normally, it’s just mice. But they’re specifically saying it’s rats this year.”

The Woodlawn Village residents asked that their names and streets not be published for fear it could affect their property values.

Hawks, whose family has been in the Wichita pest-control business for 80 years, said rats don’t discriminate by ZIP code. “It’s really not a rich/poor problem.”

Wider infestation

Forty-two rats caught in just one yard is a reflection of a wider infestation, Hawks said.

“When these things happen in residential neighborhoods, we have a community problem,” Hawks said.

“These populations can get enormous” as rats find sufficient water and food.

“Rats are extremely opportunistic. They’re quite intelligent, highly adaptive, and they can breed prolifically.”

The wild rats that roam the city are the same breed of Norway rat that has spread across the world, he said.

“It really has to be managed at the municipal level,” because government has access to drainage systems and other infrastructure that rats use for travel and shelter, Hawks said.

Local agencies also can help make sure that businesses keep garbage in tight containers, for example, he said.

It’s not just a matter of rats in this yard or that yard. “They (the neighbors) have rats in the community that are infiltrating their yard,” Hawks said.

Residents need to share their rat-kill numbers with local agencies so government knows the extent of the problem, Hawks said. “How many tons of rats per acre are we dealing with?”

When people get rats around their homes, “the first impulse is vanity. They’re embarrassed,” he said. “They need to put this embarrassment in their back pocket.”

World of rats

Rats need water, and Hawks noted that there’s a creek that drains the east side of Woodlawn Village as it approaches Rock. Around Rock and Woodlawn, he noted, there are grocery stores and restaurants with trash bins.

Everywhere there is construction this summer, rats can be displaced, he said. “Rats can travel.”

The fact that neighbors are seeing rats in their yards during the day indicates that the rodents feel comfortable in their environment, Hawks said.

According to the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management, “Norway rats are primarily nocturnal. They usually become active about dusk, when they begin to seek food and water. Some individuals may be active during daylight hours when rat populations are high.

“Since rats are normally nocturnal and somewhat wary of humans, usually many more rats are present than will be seen in the daytime. Under certain conditions, rats may become quite bold in the presence of humans, and then a high percentage of the population may be visible.”

Rat populations rise and fall, but can grow exponentially, “and they develop hot spots,” Hawks said.

Rats can find shelter just about anywhere, he said. They can burrow down along the underside of pools. The structure provides “a nice cap over their heads.”

Rats can be drawn to bird feed and any animal feed.

How should rat poison be responsibly used?

“It’s as simple as following the label,” Hawks said. “If they follow the label, the poison will be out of reach, in a tamper-resistant container. And they should inspect” the containers.

In the past, Kansas State University veterinarians have warned pet owners to take precautions to keep dogs from ingesting rat poison, which can be toxic and attack a pet’s nervous system and trigger seizures. If owners suspect their pet has been poisoned, they should immediately contact a veterinarian. The product label will say if the product is pet-proof or child-proof.

Secondary poisoning also is a concern. According to the National Pesticide Information Center, dogs, cats and some birds, including hawks and owls, can be harmed by eating rats or other animals that have been poisoned.

‘That’s a rat’

The man who caught 42 rats said he first noticed the problem about two months ago.

At first, he thought he was seeing young rabbits out in his back yard.

“My son was over here with me one day, and he said, ‘That’s a rat.” They saw it run under a bush and got close enough to see.

“And sure enough it was a rat. And that’s when we started trapping.”

For a while, he said, “I was catching two a day, almost.” The rate has decreased, but he’s still nabbing them.

They haven’t entered his home. But he worries that they might try to move inside this winter. For now, he sees them mostly along a back fence, near a shed.

The man said it was good that neighbors are talking about the invaders.

“I just feel like maybe the city ought to be made aware of it. If people aren’t made aware of it, it’s only going to get worse.”

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