British Columbia

City of Vancouver interested in rat surveillance program

Rat tracking may soon become a greater priority for the City of Vancouver.

Currently, the only way rats are tracked is through phone calls to the city

A PhD thesis at UBC is focused on how best to track rats in a systematic way. (CBC)

Rat tracking may soon become a greater priority for the City of Vancouver. 

City staff say they're interested in a project being conducted by two UBC graduate students, who have been examining whether rat populations throughout the city can be measured in a more methodological way.  

"New York has a bit of a rat surveillance program, Berkley also has one. What do they do? What do other city cities do? And could they be implemented here?" said Kaylee Byers, a PhD student at the University of Columbia.

Byers and Michael Lee, a UBC student working on his master's degree in public health, have been looking at rat populations in Vancouver for several years, stemming from research done via the Vancouver Rat Project.

While the number of rats in the city has appeared to be on the rise for some time, the only way city staff currently track rats is through citizens reporting them via the 3-1-1 help phone number. 

Byers, who spends five days a week with Lee chasing and observing rats on the Downtown Eastside, said creating a systemic tracking system is easier said than done.  

"They're not easy. They're tricky critters," she said. 

"One way you might try is you put out baits, and you say, 'Where are we seeing the most bait uptake by rats?' You could have an idea of where you potentially have more rats ... but you can't say how many rats are taking that bait." 

Byers said a wide variety of methods, including citizen reporting, expanding use of the 3-1-1 line, and enlisting pest control professionals to do surveys, could be used.  

Mike Londry, owner of West Side Pest Control, said he hopes the idea takes flight. 

"We can have an ongoing idea of whether or not practices that the city or pest control companies use are having a positive or negative effect on the population," he said.