- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 27, 2006

A passageway behind the Reef tavern in Adams Morgan used to be known as “Rat Alley,” a haven for rodents forced from their nests because of a nearby restaurant’s razing two years ago.

“It was like a rat harvest in that” building, said Drew Swift, a bar manager at the Reef. “When they bulldozed it, it was like the Pied Piper, man — they just started running and running.” Thankfully, those days are now a memory, but Mr. Swift’s story is not unique in the District and other big cities, where clusters of restaurants or careless trash throwers can quickly create a rat’s heaven on Earth.

As workers at the Reef have learned and as D.C. officials are now trying to stress, getting rid of the rodents often involves more than the typical cartoon caricature of a snap-trap baited with cheese.

“The average person has a tremendous impact on controlling rodents in their own neighborhood,” said Robert Corrigan, the keynote speaker at the District’s first-ever Rodent Control Academy, which is being held this week at the National Zoo. “Most of it has to do with trash.”

Factors like leftover garbage, food storage and overgrown shrubbery can contribute to a rat or mouse family finding a cozy home in the corner of a town house or restaurant alley, Mr. Corrigan said.

And putting out poison — which can be dangerous to cats, dogs and even children — or calling the local exterminator isn’t always the most effective solution.

“You list all the factors out, this is a complex science,” Mr. Corrigan told a crowd of pest controllers and environmental health professionals attending yesterday’s seminar. “It’s not like someone who runs out and sprays for bugs.”

Mr. Corrigan, a native New Yorker who holds a doctorate in rodent control from Purdue University, said everyday residents can approach rat and mouse abatement with simple solutions that emphasize rodent exclusion over execution.

For example, sealing trash cans, cutting back bushy landscape and plugging holes with mortar can cut back on rodent infestations citywide.

A quick look underneath household appliances can be a big help in detecting a rodent problem.

“Most people never think to do that,” Mr. Corrigan said. “If there are mice in the house, they will always leave signs behind the stove and refrigerator.”

The National Zoo, which has partnered with the D.C. Department of Health to hold the three-day academy, serves as a success story for Mr. Corrigan’s philosophy, which is known as Integrated Pest Management.

In 2003, rats caused havoc on the zoo’s 163 acres, killing prairie dogs and taking control of certain animal yards as their own.

A bacterial disease carried by rats and other animals killed a colobus monkey, and two endangered red pandas died after eating poison gas pellets buried in their yard by a pest contractor trying to fumigate the rats.

The zoo has since made more than 150 pest-proofing repairs, including raising storehouses and feeding stations off of the ground, replacing dirt with gravel to deter rats from creating burrows and covering potential rodent entrance holes with metal screening.

Officials also are armed with a bevy of snap-traps and only use pesticides as a last resort.

“We emphasize now sanitation, cleanup … and exclusion,” said Susan Alberts, an entomologist hired by the zoo in 2004 to eradicate the rats. “The rodent populations here are under control.”

At the Reef, Mr. Swift said their inherited problem is now nearly non-existent, thanks to hundreds of traps, regular exterminator visits and stringent maintenance procedures.

“We have our trash taken out five times a week and have our garbage cans closed at all times,” he said. “The last couple years, it’s gotten much, much better.”

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