Rat populations ballooning in numbers in Okanagan

Rats. They're the scourge of just about every major urban hub and now they have made the Okanagan home.

Rats. They’re the scourge of just about every major urban hub and now they have made the Okanagan home.

“One evening while in my office at home…I looked out the window and there, on a six-foot-high wooden fence, a rat had stopped in its tracks, five feet in front of my window, and was being stared down by my cat,” Linda Lou, wrote in from her home in the Capri Mall area.

“Both were motionless for 20 seconds and then I moved my hand the rat did an about face and bolted down the direction he came from.”

With that encounter seared into her mind, Lou went looking for rat traps.  The mouse equivalent, she had learned, is ineffective.

Many of the stores she went to had sold all their rat traps, as there seems to have been a summer run on them, but eventually she found some. That night she caught “one large rat” in front of her office window.

“Then I realized that the rats were using the large grape plants for cover and also eating the grapes, so I moved the traps on the fence under the grape plants,” she said.

In the last week, she’s caught one rat a night, sparking new concern for the health and well-being of the city.

News that rats have made their way into residential neighbourhoods is of no surprise to City of Kelowna staff, who have been fielding a lot of rat-related calls this summer.

“It’s a fairly recent occurrence,” said Blaire Stewart, urban forestry supervisor at the city, noting that rat numbers have swelled in the last three to five years.

“It’s not everywhere. We have had the most calls from the downtown area, and there have been areas of Glenmore with rats.”

While they are fielding the rat calls, Stewart pointed out that the city isn’t responsible for exterminating the pests unless they’re found in public parks and spaces.

“A lot of it rests on homeowners and private property owners,” he said, noting that city staff will be preparing a report that will go to council in the next year, discussing a game plan for dealing with the city’s newest residents.

“We have had a couple meetings with other municipalities so we can deal with this on a more regional basis. We’re going to try to get their help so we’re not working on this alone.”

It will take some effort by all those affected to get on top of the growing rat problem, said Matt Wright, manager at Orkin.

The pest control company is also regularly fielding more calls than ever before from area residents who have seen rats. And he expects to get more calls in the future.

“It’s going to be ongoing, and we’re going to have to evolve with that in mind,” he said.

“Kelowna is becoming more of a city than it used to be and with any city dwelling, there is more garbage and more places for rats to live. It’s not like they’re climbing all over us. But people are scared, because we haven’t seen it in the Okanagan.”

Part of the reason rats are able to flourish and grow in number here is that Kelowna isn’t used to dealing with the pest.

Unlike mice, which find low points in which to invade a space, rats climb.

“They can climb up a tree or a vine, and into a soffit,” he said, noting that’s when they make a home.

“People haven’t been educated enough to look up and make sure their soffits are good and sealed up tight.”

He also said that it’s important to make sure no trees or vines are touching one’s house and that yards are kept spic and span.

“If you have a compost area, make sure it’s well away from the house or rat proofed,” he said.

As for concerns they’ve made their way from landfills and creeks, Wright pointed out that’s unlikely. They’ve simply arrived courtesy of shipping pathways.

He also noted that West Kelowna is more infested than Kelowna.