Alberta farmers living on the border are watching extra closely for rats following an infestation in the Saskatchewan city of Swift Current that has generated reports of people being bitten in their sleep.
Rob Pulyk, a spokesman for Alberta's Rat Patrol program, said residents of Swift Current, a city only 160 kilometres from the border, need to deal with their problem promptly.
"They definitely have an infestation. It's going to be important to get it under control fairly quickly because the literature states that one pair can produce over 15,000 descendents in three years," he said.
Alberta has aggressively fought the rodent since the 1950s and boasts of being rat-free.
The province bans the purchase of rats as pets and has Alberta landowners along a swath of land 631 km long and 25 km wide patrolling for Saskatchewan rats.
"In that zone the landowners there are vigilant at keeping an eye out for rats, rat habitats, any signs of rats being around the farm yards, around bale stacks. The government provides these landowners with bait to place under buildings and bale stacks. That zone works very well in keeping any invading rats out of Alberta," said Pulyk.
City officials in Swift Current, a city of 15,000, have called a public meeting Tuesday night to discuss the rat problem.
Running the streets during the day
Ike Reimer, the owner of the Safari Inn in Swift Current, said he caught his first rat on June 4 and has since caught 54, some as long as 30 centimetres including the tail.
"There's probably thousands …We see rats as road kill on the streets, on the highways. They are going from their nests and they are running the streets, not at night only, but also during the daytime," he said.
"We are encountering a lot of destruction, as far as chewing the wires off vehicles …gnawing their way in to houses. We've had a couple of instances where people have been bit."
Swift Current officials need to take the lead in the fight against the infestation and the province should turn to Alberta for direction on controlling rats, Reimer said.
Pulyk said rats are usually nocturnal creatures and daytime sightings are a sign of trouble.
"When the nest site gets too large or if there is a shortage of food they have been known to wander around during the daylight," he said.
Despite the problem in nearby Swift Current, is Alberta still rat free?
"Absolutely," said Pulyk.