A deluge of floodwaters from the Yangtze River has caused a swift rise in water level in Dongting Lake—China's second largest freshwater lake—and has driven millions of rats from the lake islands into surrounding human habitats. Two local Government experts both warn that this is a sign of China's deteriorating environment and could cause a serious outbreak of disease in a matter of days.
Datonghu District in Yiyang City, an area with a very serious rat infestation, reported killing approximately 100 tons of farm rats in just over 8 days. Villagers collected more than ten truckloads of rats to take away for burial.
According to Voice of America (VOA), Wang Guoping, the Vice Secretary of the Hunan Province Wild Life Conservation Association, said one major reason for the dramatic increase rats is the sharp reduction of the rats' natural predators, snakes and birds of prey. The local population in Hunan eats snakes as food, and despite conservation laws, continues to catch wild snakes for decoration and artwork.
Another reason for the degradation of the ecosystem in the Hunan area is the reduction of water resources. The uncovered shore area and lake islands are perfect breeding grounds for farm rats. “In the past, Dongting Lake covered a much larger surface area. It's not like that anymore,” said Wang, “Rat infestation is a serious sign of the deteriorating environment. The government needs to take measures across the board to fix the issue.”
Fortunately to date there haven't been any outbreaks of disease related to the rat infestation. According to a report by Professor Guo Shouheng and other experts from the Hunan Centre for Disease Control (CDC) who examined rat pathogens rats, “To date we haven't found the rat plague in this area. But the enormous amount of pathogens carried by the rats can easily get into the local water system. If humans come in contact with contaminated water, they are likely to be infected with these diseases. We are concerned that in a few days the farmers will be harvesting their crops and will come in close contact with the contaminated water.”
Binhu village in Yueyang County is another town that has suffered from rat infestation for the last decade. Binhu village has lost an estimated US$130,000 worth of crops during this recent rat invasion, according to Village Secretary Xu Hongbing. The village's human population has decreased from 1300 to 800 people in the past decade.
In June this year, the village used 6000 lbs of rice mixed with rat poison to cull the rat population, so far, this has been the only effective method to slow down the rat invasion. However, according to Xu, there were also over a thousand cats and a hundred dogs that died from accidentally eating the poisoned grain.
There have been five rat infestations in the past 20 years, the last infestation occurred in 2005.