Cape Town -

For 16-year-old Asemahle Nkani, rats are a standard feature of daily life.

“We see them every day. They eat our food, and my child was bitten on the nose.”

Asemahle and her one-year-old daughter live in temporary relocation area 5.1 in Delft. She holds up a young cat, about six months old, to demonstrate the size of some of the rodents.

“We’ve got a cat - it doesn’t do anything.”

Cape Town environmental health officials are looking at a more effective means of controlling rodent populations. Last Thursday, city workers visited the informal settlement where Asemahle lives to install baiting stations in 50 of the 97 households.

They also set up baits outside houses - small black boxes safely enclosing poison that only rats can access.

Beyond informal settlement areas, rats are a common sight in the central business district and transport interchanges. For every rat spotted, there are about 20 more in its breeding colony.

Cape Town’s Department of Environmental Health acknowledges it is waging an uphill battle with the rodents.

“That’s why we call it pest control, not pest eradication,” said Ruberto Isaaks, head of the Environmental Health Office for the Tygerberg sub- district.

Initiatives to inform people about proper waste disposal, pesticide use and food storage have sparked increased efforts to combat rodents.

Funding from the Expanded Public Works Programme has put previously unemployed people to work going from door to door with educational pamphlets.

Environmental health officials have prioritised safe and effective baiting methods, visiting informal settlements to install baiting stations, teach residents about their use and check on the stations monthly.

Raids on areas with known rat issues have targeted traders of illegal pesticides such as Aldicarb and rodenticide.

Environmental health assistant Shaun Brandt visits a swampy, refuse-laden dumping ground in the N2 Gateway precinct about once a month. His efforts in poisoning the rat burrows there have brought down the number of tunnels from about 70 to 29 since September, but the task of keeping up with the colonies is daunting. “This problem is occurring all along.”

As temperatures dip and rats enter their autumn breeding season, populations hit an even steeper growth curve. Rats increasingly make their way into homes, particularly informally built structures located near areas where illegally dumped waste piles up.

Once the indemnity form is signed and the rat-baiting station fitted in a corner of Asemahle’s home, she is positive: “We are happy that they’re putting the poison in the house.”

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Cape Argus