Black Boxes Project

By Andrea Lynn

This is an ongoing project discussing the issues of the poisons littering Seattle's streets, commercial structures, and green spaces. 

Second Generation Anticoagulant Rodenticides (SGARs)

Did someone supercharge the poison in the black bait boxes in my neighborhood?

 

The black boxes contain second generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGARs), which in addition to causing slow, agonizing deaths in rats can harm children, pets, and other wildlife.

 

Last week my partner and I scooped an unusually large number of expired rats from the sidewalks of the community garden we look out onto every morning from our apartment window in Belltown.

 

Whenever we see them lifeless on the pavement, we scoop them gently from the walkway, out of sight of the small children who visit the garden and mistake them sometimes, naturally, for furry animals with sleek coats in need of petting.

 

Only, here’s the issue: wherever we place them, they are poisonous. And before they die, the rats wander through the garden and the neighborhood bleeding to death from the inside, viable snacks for resident hawks and owls.

 

SGARs are cruel and dangerous as the Environmental Protection Agency’s description of SGARs makes plain. Purveyors of this pest control solution suggest that it is safe: the boxes are secure and only accessible to rats. Images of an open poison-packed black box situated in front of a commercial building on Seattle's new waterfront make that statement impossible to believe. Thinking about the possible ways the poison within these boxes is utilized by the humans who break them open is chilling. In fact, pest control companies that tout National Pest Control Association (NPCA)-endorsed GreenPro Certification clearly voilate GreenPro Principles by placing black boxes containing the poison in places "accessible to children and nontarget animals." 

 

The Seattle chapter of the National Audubon Society, (which this summer announced that it is removing “Audubon” from its name),  spotlighted “Bird-Safe Seattle Week” this year with events that offered the community opportunities to learn about and engage with birds. Lessons included information about birds of prey and their close associations with rats in Seattle's food web.

 

At least the four rats we found last evening were not morsels for resident raptors.

 

Every component of a food web is essential and affects every other constituent. It’s referred to as a web for a reason; every living organism has a role to play and is interconnected with every other living organism in its environment. The Working Group I report from The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that failing to stop biodiversity loss could compromise all life on Earth. Rats count when we do a tally of the number of extant species on Earth and they’re a necessary part of the planet’s biodiversity.

 

Rats are intelligent and social and because they’re a lot like humans, they’ve made substantial contributions to human health and well-being. Thanks to the Rat Genome Sequencing Project (RGSP), the draft sequence of the rat genome—the third mammalian genome to be sequenced—was completed in 2004 and revealed a fuller picture of the rat’s invaluable contributions to humanity.

 

THERE ARE BETTER, MORE EFFECTIVE WAYS

 

The Urban Raptor Conservancy (URC) explains the serious consequences of rodenticides (rat poisons), and what we, humans, can do to positively exist alongside rats in our communities. Poisons are not necessary. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) emphasizes alternative solutions including innovations such as contraceptives for both male and female rats. IPM also incorporates cultural methods in consideration of an entire ecosystem. Raptors Are the Solution (RATS) is an organization that educates the public about the dangers of rat and rodent poisons in the food web. RATS Seattle Chapter is responsible for an ongoing pilot study in Queen Anne utilizing rodent birth control. Results have been outstanding, outperforming traditional anticoagulant rodenticides. 

 

The pest control company working with RATS Seattle Chapter on the project, Parker Eco Pest Control, explains on their website that the cost-effective solution is humane, non-lethal, and a proven solution, reducing in the first year rodent populations by more than 90%. See their FAQ. 

 

It is fair to recognize that the city is actively addressing poison utilization in our community. Efforts are evident in the work of the Urban Forestry Commission (UFC) and in that of Seattle Parks and Recreation among others.

 

I’m confident the community garden in my neighborhood is free of bait boxes, but unfortunately they are prevalent around the commercial and residential buildings that ring the garden. In fact, my residential building has them deployed in its parking garage. You can even find them hiding in the flora of the Olympic Sculpture Park.

 

According to Fortune Business Insights the global rodenticides market is worth more than $2 billion and is projected to be valued at $2.66 billion by 2027. It takes immense policy shifts like the California Ecosystems Protection Act (AB 1788) to untether particular economic drivers from the environment, but without such shifts, all organisms in our food web are vulnerable, including humans. It’s helpful to remember … life feeds on life.

 

We've Lost Our Humanity

Lids collapsed over dark round eyes and the tiny body winced and writhed as if in the throes of a nightmare. An abdomen heaved, went still, and then heaved again. Diminutive gasps came from lungs fighting to find oxygen. Limbs could no longer handle the weight of the tiny body as it sank and sagged, overcome by the toxicity coursing through contaminated blood vessels.

 

This mammal baby was intentionally poisoned.

 

With a final burst of effort he/she/they scurried on an uneven trajectory in search of, what? A mother? Ways to escape the pain?

 

The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) has a clear definition for pain and, alongside several studies, defines what pain is and how it can be assessed in non-humans

 

The pup found death beneath a sunflower and a four o'clock plant in the community garden, having taken some of the poison from the black box inside the adjacent residential building’s parking garage.

 

Rats Dance

 

We are more like rats and they are more like us than most humans would probably care to admit. Rats even dance like us.recent study that transplanted brain organoids grown from human stem cells into rats in order to study human neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders illuminates our similarities. 

 

I’m comfortable with rats; I admire and appreciate them. We are closely related. It still turns my stomach to recall them suffering on the slicks of extremely sticky adhesive deployed in my childhood home. Captured animals would sometimes manage to gnaw off limbs in their efforts to escape, but most of the time they struggled on the sticky pads until they died.

 

I found my appreciation for rats thanks to a beloved canine pal named Tumble (Cotton Wolf), a former Iditarod sled dog who came to live with my partner and me.

 

The Norway rats in our backyard learned to follow Tumble through her pet door at night, enamored of the cookies they came to know thanks to Tumble’s habit of carrying her cookies outside. She would lie down in a shady spot beneath the entwined bald cypress and strangler fig and relish her treats, creating plenty of crumbs during her enthusiastic munching.

 

The rats learned to trail Tumble into the house through the pet door under the cover of night. After she fell asleep on her raised bed, situated near the door, they hopped up beside her, grabbed a cookie or two that she had hidden in her bedding, and proceeded to the darkest corner of the linen closet 10 meters away. There they nibbled. Once the cookies were finished, they scrambled across the living room floor and out the pet door, leaving the same way they had learned to enter. My partner and I were amazed at their skills, and watched the rats maneuver through their cookie adventures on several occasions.

 

When they became too comfortable and decided they needed to check other beds in the house for treats—including the human beds—we invested in an electronic pet door that opened and closed by a collar Tumble wore. Hypocrisy, I know. I'm tangled up in my own concepts of being human. Cultural ecologist and philosopher David Abram writes about associative empathy wherein the body comes to recognize other centers of experience and understand other bodies beyond self. I clearly need more of this. 

 

Scientists have warned for decades that as we destroy habitat, we force animals closer to us. Our situation with the rats was maybe a little unique; they took risks that made them visible to us. But to assume rats aren’t vital components of a habitat because they keep to the shadows is to misunderstand an ecosystem, and the web of life. 

The Word HUMAN dwells within the word HUMANE.

 

Humane—"Characterized by sympathy with and consideration for others; feeling or showing compassion towards humans or animals; benevolent, kind."  –Oxford English Dictionary 

 

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