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We may not like rats, but we do a good job of making them feel at home

Numerous thoughts rushed to mind. First, I had to scour my brain to remember what I had written. Rats, after all, are not something I write or think about often. Second, I was pleased to discover that someone was reading my column – especially one written over five years ago.

Third, how come so little has been written about Hong Kong’s rats in the past five years that this journalist needed to resort to my ancient article? But perhaps most important and depressing of all, why is it that so many so often think of Hong Kong only in negative terms? For sure, that Singaporean news team will be hoping that however bad their city’s rat problems might be, Hong Kong’s will surely be worse.

Thinking back to my 2019 research on rats, I am reminded of how hard it was back then to discover the world’s rat population or their numbers in the world’s major cities. Rats don’t exactly queue up to be counted, and data is imprecise. I recall one note unhelpfully observing that “everyone agrees [brown rats] outnumber us — but no one seems eager to count”.


Fighting Hong Kong’s rampant rat problem

Paris reportedly has 6 million rats – around three times the city’s population. Its infestation is on a par with New York and London. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, UK researchers estimated that Britain is home to 150 million rats. But the lack of reliable data makes the subject very vulnerable to bias and prejudice.

What we overlook is that it is the rat’s dubious qualities that set us humans apart too. As Emma Marris recently wrote in National Geographic, “Their filth is really our own: In most places, rats are thriving on our trash and our carelessly tossed leftovers.”

So my answer to the producer’s team was that rat populations are