Were rats wrongly blamed for the plague?

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Feb 26, 2015 in Rat Answers

(CNN)For a long time, rats have taken the heat for the waves of plague that killed millions of people across Europe starting in the 14th century.

But now suspicion is falling on another rodent with a much cuddlier reputation: the gerbil.

The rats that save livesTanzania-based NGO Apopo trains giant African pouched rats to sniff out land mines and detect tuberculosis -- two scourges that have had a tremendously negative impact on the African landscape.In 2006, Apopo started testing rats on the mine fields in Mozambique, a country that at that time was one of the worst affected by landmines, thanks mainly to a civil war that ended in 1992. Since then, Apopo has cleared the country of 6,693 landmines, 29,934 small arms and ammunition, and 1,087 bombs. It is on track to clear Mozambique of landmines by the years end. Mine detection rats take nine months to a year to train. The rats are socialized when they are four-weeks-old so that they are comfortable working with humans.The rats are then conditioned with clicker training, so that they associate the sound of a click with a reward (usually peanuts or bananas). They are then introduced to a target scent (TNT or positive TB samples). The rats are then conditioned with clicker training, so that they associate the sound of a click with a reward (usually peanuts or bananas). They are then introduced to a target scent (TNT or positive TB samples). Mine-detection rats are then trained in a sandbox, where they are charged with sniffing out TNT-stuffed tea balls.In the final stage of training, mine-detection rats demonstrate their abilities at a training field at Morgoro, Tanzania -- the second largest in the world. It has over 1,500 mines, over 14 types are used during different training stages.After a rat detects a mine, a manual deminer extracts the device. A single rat can clear 200 square feet in under an hour. It will take a manual deminer working alone about 50 hours to clear the same space. Because rats are small, they are also cheaper to transport and store than dogs -- who are traditionally employed to sniff out mines. In Africa, they are a cheaper option, because they are plentiful and easy to train. Each Apopo rat costs about $7,600 to train (a third the price it costs to train a dog). Apopo also trains rats to sniff out TB. Currently, the NGOs rodents are screening TB samples in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Maputo, Mozambique.In addition to its work in Mozambique, Apopo has participated in mine-clearing projects in a number of countries, including Angola, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Lao. Here, one of Apopos training supervisors works with a Cambodian trainer.In order to raise funds, Apopo has launched an adopt-a-rat program, which allows participants to sponsor a hero rat.Apopo mine detection rat mozambiqueApopo land mine ratApopo landmine mozambiqueApopo land mine rat Mozambique fieldApopo rat test mine field bananaApopo mine detection rats sand pitApopo land mine ratapopo mozambique mine detectionApopo trainer mine detection ratApopo African giant pouched rats in labApopo mine detection rats training fieldApopo rat

A team of scientists from Norway and Switzerland are challenging the widely held view that communities of rats in Europe played host to the fleas carrying the disease for hundreds of years.

In an article published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers say they think the plague bacteria could have sprung from populations of the great gerbil and other rodent species in Central Asia.

“If we’re right, we’ll have to rewrite that part of history,” Professor Nils Christian Stenseth of the University of Oslo, one of the authors of the study, told the BBC.

    The scientists investigated Europe’s second plague pandemic, which began with the infamous Black Death from 1347 to 1353 and continued on and off for four centuries.

    Carried along trade routes?

    They say pinning the blame solely on rats doesn’t make sense.

    Rats weren’t found in large areas of northern Europe during the period, and the peaks of the plague outbreaks don’t correspond well with the climate conditions that suit rapid spreading of the disease by rat fleas.

    Instead, by analyzing climate data gleaned from tree rings, they found clues that suggest the plague might have repeatedly been carried back into Europe from outbreaks among rodents in Central Asia.

    “We show that wherever there were good conditions for gerbils and fleas in Central Asia, some years later the bacteria shows up in harbor cities in Europe and then spreads across the continent,” Stenseth told the BBC.

    The scientists say they think it’s possible the plague was reintroduced each time by the trading networks of the era.

    Caravans of traders and their camels that traveled through infested areas in Central Asia could have picked up the disease and sent it along trade routes reaching into Europe.

    Pet gerbils not a risk

    To determine whether they’re right, the researchers plan to analyze ancient plague DNA taken from victims of the pandemic.

    But if rats are hoping the scientists’ theory will get them off the hook entirely, they should think again. The study says they could still have played a part in the spread of plague by ships.

    And for people suddenly worried about their pet gerbil, there’s no cause for alarm.

    “If you get your gerbil at a pet store … you have nothing to worry about,” Ken Gage, a plague expert for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told NPR.

    Article source: http://edition.cnn.com/2015/02/25/health/plague-gerbils-rats/index.html?eref=edition

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I am so done with winter

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Feb 26, 2015 in Rat News

I’m done.

I’m done with fleece leggings layered under fleece pants tucked into grungy winter boots in supposedly high-tech, formerly waterproof winter fabrics (I suppose there’s only so much wear any garment can take). I’m done with my black, floor-length winter coat, streaked with salt stains and reeking of sweat and deep-winter despair. I’m done with kicking chunks of black ice out from under my car tires and from the grating sound of scraping ice off the INSIDE of my windshield.

I will no longer pile on 7,000 layers to take the dog out for a walk because it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference anyway. When the wind chill drops below -30, the only reasonable thing to do is grab another human or a box of leftover Valentine’s Day chocolate from the discount bin at Fortinos and hunker down in front of the TV until there’s even a glimpse of hope. A ray of warming sun. A snow-free day. A temperature high of -5.

Well, guess what, people? It ain’t happening any time soon. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this wind chill insanity will carry on into the weekend, at which point we will get a temperature reprieve. And then it will snow. A lot. Because of course it will.

So I’m done with people who refer to their umpteen layers of foundation undergarments as “cosy” and “cute” and “winter fun.” We’re way past that now, OK? Give it up. This isn’t November when we could still hold out hope for a reasonably mild and short winter. And please, please, please shut it with all your cheeriness and optimism. You’re making the rest of us feel guilty for hating the air we breathe.

Perhaps the weather is making me a titch grumpy. Perhaps I do suffer from mild Seasonal Affective Disorder. Maybe spending an afternoon in the tropical greenhouse at Gage Park or the Royal Botanical Gardens would help. So might a trip to Aruba, for that matter.

Or maybe, as I mentioned at the beginning, I’m just done. Are you done with winter? If you’re not, I don’t want to hear about it, so please keep it to yourself. This is not a negotiation or a debate like, say, whether or not you loved Lady Gaga’s gloves at the Oscars on Sunday (that’s a trick because of course we love to hate them).

So what can we do to make it through the next few weeks? The trip to Aruba is off the table? Well, that’s OK I guess. House of Cards Season 3 will be available for binge-watching on Netflix starting on Friday. That’s one day.

The aforementioned greenhouses? The RBG also has that cute frog exhibit. That’s another day.

Oh, and the story about the woman who tried to sneak her pet rats into the courthouse is pure entertainment for days and days. (The rats wanted an outing? The witness ratted out the defendant? Were they some kind of message? Were the rats appropriately dressed for the weather? Can rats survive in the cold or is that why they were packed into the hood of her coat? Do they sell tiny winter garments for rodents? And if they do, will rats wear them or will they chew them off?)

The dog, an annoyingly cheery optimist who loves winter, is begging me with her eyes to please go outside to inhale the icy air and writhe enthusiastically on the frozen ground. It was cute until January. It’s not anymore. But on a sunny day, a walk in the Dundas Valley is pretty good, too.

So I’m off to find my fleece leggings. And maybe when we meet again next week, we’ll be able to glimpse a sliver of springtime hope.

Article source: http://www.thespec.com/living-story/5445675-i-am-so-done-with-winter/

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Pet goats get reprieve—for now

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Feb 25, 2015 in Rat Answers

Toggy and Andy won’t be going anywhere just yet.

Alexandra Lezo, owner of the pair of pet pygmy goats, was ordered by Burnaby city hall to find a new home for them by March 3.

But after Lezo appealed to council on Monday, city staff will be looking into the feasibility of allow pygmy goats as pets in Burnaby backyards.

Lezo asked for the animals to be reclassified as domestic pets in the city and to establish a bylaw setting out requirements for their owners.

She stressed that pygmy goats are not farm animals and have fewer diseases communicable to humans than dogs are cats. Their diet consists mainly of hay and alfalfa, which don’t attract rats, and they don’t attract coyotes any more than other pets.

They’re easy to clean up after, with excrement similar to that of rabbits, and they are quiet, only making noise when they see their “human friends” and then only for a short time, Lezo said.

They’re safe and approachable animals “with a calming therapeutic effect,” she said.

They would need a minimum amount of yard space and secured shelters to protect them from predators, she said, noting her yard offers 1,800 square feet for the goats and they are locked in their sheds at night.

Lezo acquired the neutered goats 11 months ago. She wasn’t aware that the zoning of her South Burnaby property doesn’t allow goats to be kept. Such properties must be zoned for agricultural use.

Since then, they’ve become a fixture in the neighbourhood. There were no complaints until about a month ago when she put up a sign about the goats to help educate children from nearby Clinton elementary.

She got the letter from city hall not long afterwards.

Lezo stressed that before she got the goats she consulted Burnaby’s animal control bylaw and called city hall. The staff person she spoke with referred her to the animal bylaw again, which did not have any restrictions on goats.

“I really did obtain the goats in good faith.”

Mayor Derek Corrigan assured her “no one’s thought anything but you were entirely innocent in this.” But city staff were obligated to respond to the complaint made by someone after they saw the sign.

“We don’t drive up and down the street looking for ways to enforce the bylaw.”

Corrigan said it appears Lezo is a very good owner for the pets. “Unfortunately, not everyone is like you.”

One of the challenges for city staff is to determine whether a bylaw could be created that could apply to everyone and offer safeguards to ensure pet pygmy goats don’t become a problem in the city.

Lezo’s presentation was applauded by a group of supporters, a fact not lost on Corrigan.

“You have a lot of allies out there, including my executive assistant who has probably told me those goats are cute twice a day for the last week,” he said.

But the issue will require careful consideration because it could have far-reaching ramifications, he added.

Coun. Nick Volkow also appeared supportive. “People keep great danes in the city and they’re about five or six times the size of a pygmy goat for cryin’ out loud.”

Lezo also suggested pet pygmy goats could be licenced like dogs, something that already happens in cities such as San Francisco and Seattle.

Council directed city staff to report back on the issue.



Article source: http://www.bclocalnews.com/news/294067581.html

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Woman caught trying to take rats into Hamilton court

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Feb 25, 2015 in Rat News

While “wanding” a young woman with a metal detector, the officer let out a yelp.

Article source: http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2015/02/23/woman-caught-trying-to-take-rats-into-hamilton-court.html

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Gerbils Likely Pushed Plague To Europe in Middle Ages

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Feb 24, 2015 in Rat Answers

Who, me? The Asian relative of this domestic gerbil is a well-known host to the bacteria that cause plague.i

Who, me? The Asian relative of this domestic gerbil is a well-known host to the bacteria that cause plague.

Who, me? The Asian relative of this domestic gerbil is a well-known host to the bacteria that cause plague.

Valentina Storti/Flickr

Gerbils are a beloved classroom pet, but they might also be deadly killers. A study now claims that gerbils helped bring bubonic plague to Medieval Europe and contributed to the deaths of millions.

Plague is caused by bacteria (Yersinia pestis) found in rodents, and the fleas that live on rodents. The rodent that’s usually Suspect Zero is the rat.

“I like rats,” says Nils Christian Stenseth, an evolutionary ecologist at the University of Oslo. “But there is a myth around rats that they are evil.”

He says the rat story doesn’t add up: If rats carried plague to Europe, and Europe is still full of rats today, then plague should also be found in European cities. But it isn’t.

Stenseth suspects that the plague came to Europe multiple times from Asia, where it still exists today. The rodents that carry plague in Asia include the cutest of infectious hosts: the gerbil.

“What we are suggesting is that it was gerbils in Central Asia and the bacterium in gerbils that eventually came to Europe,” Stenseth says. The scientists used climate records to check their theory, and they found a tentative link. When the climate in Asia was good, gerbils are thought to have thrived; but when it went bad, the population crashed. And about 15 years after each boom and bust, a plague outbreak erupted in Europe. The theory is that fleas carrying plague jumped from dead gerbils to pack animals and human traders, who then brought it to European cities. The research team’s results appear in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The same bacterium that ravaged medieval Europe as the Black Death still occasionally re-emerges.

Victims of the plague are consigned to a communal burial during the Plague of London in 1665.

Stenseth isn’t alone in his belief. Ken Gage, who studies plague for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says more and more evidence is pointing to Asian rodents as the source of European plague. Rats aren’t entirely blameless, he notes – they’ve been linked to a number of plague outbreaks, including the original outbreak that brought the disease to America at the start of the 20th century.

But Gage says he’s beginning to think that rats should be at least partially exonerated.

“When you see the old textbooks and descriptions of plague and the Black Death, it’s all rats and rat fleas,” he says. “That story got going and it’s persisted for a long time.”

He says gerbils and other Asian rodents look like the real threat. Gage adds that the CDC isn’t worried about the domestic gerbils Americans keep as pets.

“If you get your gerbil at a pet store … you have nothing to worry about,” Gage says.

Pet gerbils aren’t exposed to plague, and hopefully they don’t have the fleas needed to carry it either.

Article source: http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2015/02/24/388729958/gerbils-likely-pushed-plague-to-europe-in-middle-ages?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=news

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Woman caught trying to take rats into Hamilton…

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Feb 24, 2015 in Rat News

A Hamilton police special constable doing security checks on visitors entering the courthouse got a surprise Monday.

While “wanding” a young woman with a metal detector, the officer let out a yelp.

Inside the hood of the woman’s winter coat, two pet rats were nestled.

The woman seemed miffed when she was told she could not bring the rodents into the building.

A few weeks ago, the same court officer found a small dog in a woman’s handbag.

Article source: http://www.niagarathisweek.com/news-story/5443942-woman-caught-trying-to-take-rats-into-hamilton-courthouse/

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Woman caught trying to take rats into Hamilton courthouse

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Feb 23, 2015 in Rat News

A Hamilton police special constable doing security checks on visitors entering the courthouse got a surprise Monday.

While “wanding” a young woman with a metal detector, the officer let out a yelp.

Inside the hood of the woman’s winter coat were nestled two pet rats.

The woman seemed miffed when she was told she could not bring the rodents into the building.

A few weeks ago, the same court officer found a small dog in a woman’s handbag.

Article source: http://www.thespec.com/news-story/5443942-woman-caught-trying-to-take-rats-into-hamilton-courthouse/

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Our kids teach us the darndest things

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Feb 22, 2015 in Rat News

When our children were young, we introduced them to the pleasures of our childhoods – from reading Goodnight Moon to riding a two-wheeler. We relished the chance to play with them and expand their horizons, but our horizons were limited to what we knew and could imagine.

What we couldn’t imagine was how much these children, who now range in age from 19 to 29, would teach us. They’ve made us more socially conscious, politically correct, and tech-smart. They’ve been persistent and patient – mostly. When they laugh at us because we still have a landline and pay bills by snail mail, we know it’s because they love us. Our children have taught us well.

Early on, we did the bulk of the teaching. Wash your hands after you use the toilet. Ask before you pet the neighbor’s dog. Remember to say please. Long before middle school, they started training us: Don’t flush the toilet every time you use it; you’re wasting water. Get a dog at a shelter, not a pet store. Never ask a boy if he has a girlfriend; he might be dating a guy. If you have to, you can ask him if he’s seeing anyone.

When our children were toddlers, we picked out their clothes and dressed them. Now our daughters give us fashion advice: They tell us it’s time to give away our “mom jeans” and show us 14 ways to tie a scarf. Their perspective opens our eyes: Purple hair just means you are creative, a tattoo is body art, and people get things other than their ears pierced.

We taught them about food: Chicken comes in other forms than nugget. You won’t know if you like vegetable curry until you try it. Who knew that just a few years later they would ask us to try the Leni-Lenape rabbit stew at their third-grade Native American feast?

Our kids informed us that the word for people who don’t eat macaroni and cheese or scrambled eggs is vegan, not picky. They taught us that we don’t have to eat our green vegetables anymore; we can drink kale in a smoothie with beets and wheatgrass; it’s served in an eco-friendly glass bottle for $9 at a trendy café. When we crave sugar at midnight, we don’t have to eat stale Oreos. We can get warm cookies delivered to our door using an app the kids downloaded for us.

As our children took up hobbies and brought home pets, they got us involved, too: We fed granola to pet rats and frozen mice to a pet snake. We took scuba-diving lessons in a local swimming pool even though we were terrified. We learned how to judge Lincoln-Douglas debates. We now know that break and lock were useful vocabulary words for both a hip-hop dancer and a wrestler.

Growing up, we two played the piano and clarinet. Our kids played those and more. We’ve learned that it’s easier to deliver a forgotten clarinet to school than a cello, it’s harder to find a teacher for the steel drum than the French horn, and that it’s a miracle when the middle-school orchestra ends on the same note at the same time.

Our music mavens have more than 30,000 songs on their playlists, and they’ve exposed us to musical genres beyond Motown and hard rock. They taught us that grunge doesn’t mean it needs to be washed, crunk is not a noise your car makes, and Euro pop is not a German soda.

When we grew up, travel was limited to summers at the Shore or winter getaways to Florida. Our kids are world travelers; they’ve told us that in China you can get a $5 massage from a blind person. Most shocking? It’s possible to cram three weeks’ worth of clothes in a carry-on.

We look forward to the next stage of our kids’ lives, by which we mean weddings and babies. Except that none of our kids are there yet. Still, we’re eager for them to teach us about digital wedding favors, having attendants of the opposite sex, and the proper way to put baby Hudson or baby Harper to bed in an organic cotton sleep pod.


Ellen Scolnic and Joyce Eisenberg are the authors of the “Dictionary of Jewish Words” and are also known as the Word Mavens. Contact the authors via www.thewordmavens.com.

Article source: http://www.philly.com/philly/opinion/inquirer/20150222_Our_kids_teach_us_the_darndest_things.html

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Alberta Agriculture sets up special phone line to report rats: 310-RATS

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Feb 21, 2015 in Rat News

EDMONTON – Alberta Agriculture wants to make it easier to report sightings of rats in the hope of keeping the destructive rodents out of the province.

The government has set up a toll-free number — 310-RATS (7287).

The province prided itself for being rat-free for decades, but faced unusual infestations in southeastern Alberta in 2012 and last year.

Norway rats are considered to be extremely destructive with the potential to ruin crops and spread disease.

Rat inspector Bruce Hamblin says municipalities are responsible for eradicating the varmints, but people sometimes don’t know where to call to report a sighting.

“We talked to people who couldn’t find an easy number to call,” he said.

“Sometimes calls were going to fish and wildlife officers and some of the other agencies before finally being directed to Alberta Agriculture. The new 310-RATS phone line is just a more efficient tool to help ensure Alberta remains rat-free.”

Alberta focuses its rat-control efforts within a 29-kilometre-wide zone along the Saskatchewan boundary from the central Lloydminster area south to the U.S. border.

Municipalities along this corridor get special grants from the province to monitor the pests.

The province is so serious about preventing the rodents from getting established in Alberta that it is illegal to have any types of pet rats.

Phil Merrill, Alberta Agriculture’s provincial rat specialist, says there were 16 confirmed reports last year, including pet rats.

The yearly average is up to 10 single rat sightings and up to three infestations, generally in the rat-control zone.

When rats are found they are killed.

The province considers the larger infestations in 2012 and 2014 at the Medicine Hat dump, which is just outside the rat-control zone, to be unusual.

During the campaign last year to root out the pests at the dump, an 80-metre-long nest was found that took a team of workers and two excavators six hours to destroy.

Alberta Agriculture says Norway rats live near people or their structures. They can’t survive in natural areas or survive winter in farm fields.

The rodents are not native to North America but were introduced along the east coast in 1775 and spread slowly westward.

© Copyright Times Colonist

Article source: http://www.timescolonist.com/opinion/blogs/alberta-agriculture-sets-up-special-phone-line-to-report-rats-310-rats-1.1736591

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Subscribe to the Bucks Herald

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Feb 20, 2015 in Rat Answers

Two poorly pet rats were left to die on the driveway of a stranger’s house.

The rats, both male adults, were found abandoned in a diliapidated hamster cage in a Bicester Road, Aylesbury driveway.

After spotting the animals left out in the cold on the driveway of their property, the shocked owner of the house called the RSPCA for help.

The two rats – one black and the other grey and white – were left in a filthy, cramped cage and were suffering from severe skin problems and respiratory issues. Both animals were red from irritation and covered in scabs and the grey and white male rat was in such a bad condition that he had lost the majority of his fur.

RSPCA inspector Jaime Godfrey said: “These past few weeks we have seen temperatures drop to below freezing and for someone to just callously leave two animals with serious health problems outside in this weather leaves me feeling cold.

“These boys were dumped like unwanted rubbish next to some bins and although we did everything we could to help them recover their serious underlying health conditions meant that unfortunately we had no choice but to put them to sleep on veterinary advice.

“We are appealing to anyone who might know more about the owner of this pair or who might have seen someone in the area around that time dumping the cage that contained these animals.”

Anyone with information about this incident should contact the RSPCA inspector appeal line on 0300 123 8018.

Article source: http://www.bucksherald.co.uk/news/more-news/pet-rats-left-to-die-on-stranger-s-driveway-1-6592748

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