Ratty over bad habits

The military-style manoeuvres to catch rats in Bukit Batok might amaze visitors from places where pest infestations have become an unavoidable way of life over time. Singaporeans, who consider a safe and clean living environment a priority in a densely populated nation, would see the speed and precision with which the authorities moved in as compensating for not having nipped the problem in the bud earlier. The rodent round-up began only after images of rats, scampering boldly in broad daylight, went viral on social media.

The scale of the problem, requiring three weeks to solve, indicates the need for quicker preventive action in the future, with agencies working closely together to spot and eradicate the menace. Not only had a large colony formed in Bukit Batok, but it was also close to an MRT station.

Rats breed with a fecundity that is not always recognised, and they exhibit alarming agility in making themselves at home underground, on the ground and under roofs. These rodents spread various diseases, even when caught and killed in traps, as they carry lice, mites and fleas. The proximity of the colony to the MRT station in this case raised the possibility of the pests being carried elsewhere. Another threat is the damage from their incessant gnawing on most building materials, like wood, plastic, rubber and weak concrete - triggered by the constantly growing sharp front teeth of rats. Transport infrastructure might then be put at risk.

These potential dangers are a reminder of the need for all to play a part in upholding public hygiene. One might, out of kindness, feed stray dogs that have nowhere else to go. But not clearing up leftover food creates a constant source of food for rats to multiply. Those carelessly disposing of uneaten fast food in drains also create opportunities for rodents to thrive and to spread via a sprawling network of drains. Prevention is the best strategy to adopt. One should not expect rat busters to constantly leap into action.