Date of release: Monday, February 27, 2017
A project to combat the destruction and disease caused by rats in Africa is being led by the University of Greenwich's Natural Resources Institute.
'StopRats' sees university experts working alongside research teams from six African countries in an international effort to significantly reduce the impact of rodents on people's lives.
"Rats are everywhere," says Steve Belmain, Professor of Ecology at the Natural Resources Institute (NRI), and leader of the StopRats project. "They cause damage in a multitude of ways, from destroying field crops, to eating and contaminating stored food, spreading serious diseases among people and animals and destroying infrastructure. Rodents can even cause house and farm fires by biting through electrical cables."
StopRats – short for Sustainable Technologies to Overcome Pest Rodents in Africa through Science – brings together researchers from Madagascar, Namibia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland and Tanzania. They are working with farming communities, the private pest control industry, and government departments to carry out innovative research work, increase awareness about rodents and to develop sustainable management strategies.
The project's research findings show that owning domestic cats and dogs may help to tackle the problem, as these pets can have an effect on the foraging behaviour of rodents. Rodents are able to detect the presence of predators in their environment: when the risk from predators is perceived to be higher, rodents will spend less time looking for food in that area.
Professor Belmain, co-author of a new paper on this topic, says: "Contrary to our expectations, we did not find that rodent foraging behaviour changed when households had only cats or only dogs.
"However, rodent foraging did change when households had both cats and dogs present, where an increase in the landscape of fear for rodents dramatically reduced the amount of food they would consume from established feeding patches."
Based at the University of Swaziland, the research team is continuing to investigate whether this 'landscape of fear' can be manipulated further to the detriment of rodent pests, and whether it can bring other potential benefits to households.
Another of the aims of StopRats was to work with university students in these countries, involving them in research to help build the next generation of rodent experts in Africa. More than 40 students have obtained high-quality post-graduate degrees (Masters and PhDs) with technical support from the project.
StopRats has created some user-friendly videos on How to Control Rodents, which were produced to help African farmers with some of the basic issues that should be understood when trying to control rodents.
To read the paper: