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The few, the proud, the feline…

6 November 2004

Mexican health officials say they have failed in their effort to deal with a rat plague in a remote mountain village by sending in hundreds of cats.

Authorities in the state of Chihuahua came up with the plan after the people of Atascaderos appealed for help in dealing with an estimated 250,000 rats. But rodent control expert Alberto Lafon said not enough cats had been obtained and some had died soon after arrival. He said the villagers would just have to learn to live with the rats.

“At this point, they are going to have to take charge and learn to control them,” he told the Associated Press news agency. Residents in Atascaderos asked the authorities for help two months ago, saying at least 800 homes had become rat-infested and traditional extermination methods had failed. Experts launched an appeal asking people to donate unwanted cats, in the hope of recruiting an attack force of up to 700 animals. In the end, however, they only managed to rustle up a mere 50 cats.
And in a further setback, fears that the cats would not be able to survive in the harsh weather conditions of the mountains proved justified when many of them died after just a short time in the village.

But there is one last hope left for the villagers, say health officials. Javier Lozano, director of health services in Chihuahua state, told AP that traditional poisons had not worked on the rats, because they had learned to avoid them after seeing their fellow rodents die. But he added that the authorities had now ordered a special poison that took up to four days to kill its victim. “Poison that slowly takes effect will be more effective,” he said.

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