County health department battles growing rat population

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)- The natural selection that occurs in rats during the winter months mean a lot of them die off, leading to smaller numbers in the spring and summer.

For the past couple of winters, that process hasn’t happened as it should; a couple years ago, the rat population in Erie County was up 30 percent. County health workers are still combating that spike.

“We saw a spike over the last couple of years of rat complaints, especially last season because of this warm weather pattern that’s been going through,” explained Senior Public Health Sanitarian for Erie County, Peter Tripi.

Tripi took us through the backyard of an abandoned home in Buffalo to see rat baiting first-hand. It’s a task Tripi and his small team have been doing a lot more than they’d like to.

Climate change has brought more bugs and more rats to western New York. For those who can’t pay an exterminator, the County steps in to help.

“We’re a small program that does huge things. My staff is very dedicated, they’re in the communities trying to educate the public as well as doing enforcement and baiting where needed. So we’re doing big things with a small amount of staff.”

They drive their own cars to these sites, and set up traps in hopes of getting ahead of growing rat populations.

Tripi pushes the slogan “Fighting rats one yard at a time.” Keeping the rodents at bay is actually pretty simple, he said.

“A lot of times the person complaining about somebody else had just as many problems in their own yards. Violations of spilling bird-seed onto the ground, garbage, and things like that.”

Spilled bird seed, standing water, or even waste fro pets will attract these critters. And once they’re there, the problem can become a headache.

Rats can jump up to five feet, which means an open garbage tote is a warm welcome.

The animals carry with them diseases too.

“If you have a bird feeder spilling over and you have a Koi pond, you have a perfect situation where the rat has something to drink, the rat has something to eat. Now you’ve invited them to urinate on your property and live on your property. You dig in the soil to make your garden, they’re eating your tomatoes because they’re looking for a food source, you are exposing yourself to the potential of Leptospirosis,” Tripi explained.

Leptospirosis can infect both humans and animals, and has the potential to make you very sick.

So far this summer, the County hasn’t seen the spike in rat numbers of it saw a couple years ago, but Tripi said given how small his team his, they could use help from residents on this.

The County is working with Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown’s Impact team on certain properties.

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