I Smell a Rat...or Two

I am assured that in some Indian temples it is good luck, and indeed a blessing from God, to have a rat run over your feet – I’m not sure a rat chewing on your big toe in Tuvalu however, has similar Holy implications, unless you are talking about the various “Holy this” and “Holy that” phrases that it inspired.

Talking in blasphemous tongues at 5am was the last straw in a long list of events which had lead to me sleeping with my torch, a length of string, and a large rock next to my bed, but I am getting ahead of myself.

 Our attempts at 'rat-proofing' the  fale ...

Our attempts at 'rat-proofing' the fale...

Initially the rats were only half-identified as a scratching sound in the roof, which we could have easily passed off as a large bird, or small child, (neither of which would have been too surprising).  Then becoming braver, they confirmed their existence to us when one of their number raced across the floor in a black hairy blur whilst we were eating, in the hope it could snatch a morsel of fish or rice from under the table – it was unsuccessful, and in doing so betrayed the entrance through which they were getting into the fale – a small hole in a painted over door behind one of the beds.  Excellent we thought, and immediately went to the ‘man drawer’ and produced a truly epic amount of gaffer tape which we used to seal the hole, and went to bed feeling relaxed and smug.

 More rat-proofing attempts this time in the kitchen...

More rat-proofing attempts this time in the kitchen...

Now I admit that don’t know much about rats, I know that they once helped spread the plague, and I know if they get covered in nuclear waste, they mutate and become martial arts experts and lead a gang of teenage mutant ninja turtles against the forces of evil – they also seem to like noodles.

Awaking in the middle of the night to a loud rustling sound in the kitchen, I located my torch and clumsily walked towards the commotion, only to realise I was too late, and a snake like tail disappearing under the sink, was the only clue as to the carnage that now presented itself.  Stashed in the cupboard, we had a small supply of noodles put away in case of a fisherman’s strike or something similar.  Instead we now had small supply of plastic wrappers and dust.  The appetite of the rats was impressive, and I was glad that we opted to buy a bucket to keep our crackers, rice, and bread in, it at least this had remained rat proof thus far.  Confused at how our nemesis had gained access to our noodles, I shone my torch towards the entrance hole and the beam illuminated a neatly chewed hole in our gaffer tape fortifications.  I vowed to do something about it the next day, and went back to bed with my torch as my new bedtime companion allowing me to keep a watch of every rustle of plastic throughout the night, affording me brief but gruesome glimpses of our furry foes.  I summarised that the bigger ones come out at night, and after staring briefly into the startled eyes of an absolute beast, I switched my torch off and accepted (at least for the rest of the night) ignorance was bliss.

 Improvised traps proved to be absolutly rubbish...

Improvised traps proved to be absolutly rubbish...

My rat catching knowledge to date has been influenced by three things: One – my often successful attempts at ‘bat-the-rat’ at the school fair; two – my dad wielding an air rifle in the back garden muttering under his breath; and three, the board game mouse trap.

Unfortunately, as we are in one of the remotest corners of the world, we are a long way from a drainpipe, bean bag, and rounders bat, we are a marble, and plastic man jumping into a bath short of a full mouse trap set, and an air rifle is completely out of the question.  Instead we decided to attempt the more conventional method of rat catching, and went in search of a trap.

Turns out that the last known sighting of a rat trap in Tuvalu was a couple of months ago when it was bought from one of the local shops, we were assured that they would be getting some more, but it all depended on when they ordered their stock again, and when their supply ship decided to come from Fiji.  In the mean time we were directed to a local guy who makes rat traps, only to hear that he sadly passed away two weeks ago (hopefully from nothing rat or trap related).

 Another frankly pathetic rat trap attempt...

Another frankly pathetic rat trap attempt...

We approached our landlady, who horrified (but well aware of the island shortage of traps) said she would contact the ministry of agriculture immediately, and enquire into the possibility of getting some poison, and in the mean time we should make sure all of our food was put away.  This we had already done (mainly on account of the ants) but we weren’t satisfied with just sitting and waiting for some poison that may never arrive, and as we never knew when the rats might come into contact with nuclear waste and thus become martial arts experts, we started to consider if we could make our own traps.

This began an hour of scavenging, creativity, and bodging that any self respecting scrapheap challenge contestant would be proud of.  The finished results, although not works of art by any means, showed promise, and in our minds were the perfect solution to the problem.  We settled on two types of traps, Jay’s was an adaption of fly paper,  and employed a plastic bag lined with extra sticky gaffer tape,  where we hoped the rat would go in to eat the cracker we had baited it with, and get caught up in a plastic/gaffer tape web, where we would be able to take advantage of its confusion and lack of mobility, and give it a good whack on the head, with the strongest, meanest looking rock we could find in the garden.  The second trap (my humble effort) was a life-sized version of mousetrap, bypassing the marble and the man jumping into a bath, and concentrating on the basket falling on the rats head.  In order for this to happen, I propped the bucket up with a stick, and attached a piece of string from the stick, to a piece of cracker suspended from the roof of the bucket – in theory, the rat would grab the cracker, pulling the stick away, and trapping it under the bucket.  For good measure, I attacked another piece of string to the stick and ran it over to my bed, so I could operate the trap from there; this hopefully explains why I was now going to bed with my torch, a piece of string, and a large rock by my bed.

 Getting straight to the point - rat catching gets personal...

Getting straight to the point - rat catching gets personal...

Poised, we went to bed, and waited for the inevitable rustling.  About 3am, it started, and rushing to the kitchen, I found that the devious rats had eaten through the bag from the wrong side, missing out the gaffer tape altogether, and getting to the cracker.  To add insult to potential injury, they then decided to play with the bag making a haunting rustle for the rest of the night.  Awake and alert, I sat in wait, string in hand, and peered into the darkness, waiting for a rat to pass under my bucket, instead every time I shone my torch I was greeted by one or two rats, sitting on my favourite chair, or running along the kitchen counter.  They didn’t even appear scared of the light as they once had, and didn’t go anywhere near my trap, it seemed they were now more interested in us, and so after slipping into an uneasy sleep, they made their way towards our beds and, we are back at the beginning of our story.

 Rat catching becomes much easier after the arrival of 'proper' traps...

Rat catching becomes much easier after the arrival of 'proper' traps...

Rats chewing on your big toe, running over your head, and sitting on your favourite chair, just isn’t on, so this morning we expended almost an entire roll of gaffer-tape making our house as rat proof as possible.  There is now scavenged wood taped to every conceivable entrance or exit.  Effectively adding a skirting board to the entire kitchen, and under the beds, we hope that we have made it impossible for them to come in by their normal means, and thus will halt the onslaught, or at least postpone it long enough for some more traps to arrive.

© Andy Browning 2011