Map reveals Sydney’s billion rat problem
Ever since the First Fleet hit Sydney's shores, the coastal city has been infested with rats.
But recent estimates - which put the city's rat population between 500 million and a billion rodents - has the City of Sydney council scrambling to bring the problem under control.
Earlier this week, City of Sydney announced it was doubling the number of rat baits across the city in response to a rise in the rodent population.
As the weather gets colder and Sydney experiences a huge construction boom, rats that were previously happy hiding in their nests in the cracks of the city's ageing buildings are being forced out.
Rats were spotted earlier this year running through Oporto on Broadway, a main thoroughfare in Sydney, and a giant rodent was seen running across the counter of Din Tai Fung, a popular dumpling restaurant in Westfield Sydney.
Rats, whose incontinence causes them to urinate and defecate as they run across the city, are also being blamed for the deaths of a handful of dogs.
"We have been very concerned about the recent cases of leptospirosis in Sydney affecting dogs in our local area," Lord Mayor Clover Moore said in a statement yesterday.
The disease is caused by bacteria found in infected animal urine and tissues.
Since the deaths of seven dogs, the council and pest controllers doubled down.
"We will now have 860 rat bait stations in public areas and will place additional baits out when we receive complaints from residents and businesses," Ms Moore said.
"We can't fight the rat problem on our own, because we can only install rat baits on our own land. The City has written to Sydney Trains, Property NSW, Sydney Water and NSW Land and Housing Corporation to urge them to increase baiting and monitoring of rats on their land.
"We also need residents and businesses to take care with food scraps and other waste. Our regulatory staff will continue to target poor waste management practices and illegal dumping in hot spots."
Sam Yehia, from Sydney's Best Pest Control, said the bulk of their calls in winter were related to rodents. Of the 50 phone calls he receives each day, around 80 per cent are related to rats and mice.
"We normally have a large rat issue in winter because it's cold outside and they're looking for somewhere warm to go into," Mr Yehia said.
"Another factor in Sydney is the demolition of all these places and houses which disturbs their present living areas and forces them to move.
"The final reason is basically restaurants are not being proactive with their pest control. They take a reactive approach. Restaurants think they can get rid of them overnight and they call us and say, 'Get rid of them straight away' but from a pest control point of view, it takes time."
Mr Yehia has been in the pest control business for 20 years and has seen it all.
His experience in the business has made it easy for him to know how to get rid of rats.
"Obviously you need to give them something to eat so that's why it can take a while to get rid of them," he said.
"There's also different types of rat baits and sometimes you need to change what you're baiting with. They might not like it and won't want to eat it."
Mr Yehia said his go-to was a fruit salad, and then to mix the bait into that.
"If they're eating avocadoes and bananas, then we mix that to get rid of them," he said.
"The easiest way to get rid of them is to lace the bait with what they're eating."
Ageing Sydney buildings also make it difficult for pest controllers to ever properly know how many rats live in the city.
"The biggest issue around the city is because of older buildings you have a lot of cracks and crevices they can get into. Then you also have the issue of one shop might be doing something but the one next to it won't do anything. It has to be a co-ordinated approach."
Mr Yehia said, similar to the council calling for the whole city to work hard on pest control, bigger businesses also needed to help the little man.
"You'll have a little guy with his fruit shop trying to get rid of rats but then the big guy or the owner of the shopping centre is just putting boxes out but not doing anything and just leaving them," he said.
"It's always reactive."
Mr Yehia said Cockle Bay Wharf and Darling Harbour was one particular example.
"The shop owners are doing as much as possible but I think whoever looks after the area needs to be more proactive," he said.
"If you don't stop the source of the problem and get rid of their food source they'll just keep coming back."
Business is booming for Mr Yehia and he said the big reaction from council - and their adding of 860 baits - should only be seen as a good thing.
"It's definitely a good idea and it will 100 per cent will help but they're still being reactive. It feels like they're saying, 'Sh*t we better do our bit and show we're doing something'.
"But it's a win-win situation I think, we all have to win out of this. The (pest controllers) that are worried about profits, I don't think that's a good thing."
The rat population is such a part of Sydney now, Mr Yehia said even with council's big response, it probably won't ever be under control.
"How far is it going to dent the population? Not much, but it will help," he said.
"Commercial properties have to take a proactive approach, shopping centres, malls, places like Darling Harbour and Cockle Bay - they can't just leave it up to council."
The Sydney pest controller also suggested councils need to inspect businesses more.
"We know when council has been around because we'll get a big influx of calls from one area and say, 'I need my pest control now.'"
Since news of the leptospirosis outbreak spread, Mr Yehia said they'd received an influx of calls.
"It's a normal issue this time of year - a rat surge. People see more so they think there's more around, but in summer they'll go back to breeding and out of sight."