Rat poison: time to think again

Published in Poisons Beware

Just as the use of insecticides does not solve a mosquito problem, vermin are not controlled by repeated use of poisons.

Rat poison lodged in letter-box. Rat poison lodged in letter-box. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

For many years, rat poison has been delivered to households all over the island in totally inadequate cellophane bags. To make matters worse, the instructions are inside, so the poison has to be handled if you want to read them. Foreign residents who do not know Croatian are at a disadvantage. One thought that the white tablet which comes with the red warfarin mixture was the antidote. Luckily, they had no occasion to try it, as the tablet is a separate poison meant for septic tanks, and has no antidote. The antidote to the warfarin is vitamin K. Warnings that the poison is about to be delivered are patchy and haphazard. While the official Stari Grad website always carries advance notice, that has not been the case elsewhere. In Pitve it was usually a small notice taped to the rubbish bin a day or two beforehand. However, during 2016 there has been an improvement in Jelsa, with warnings being given on the Council's website as well as on the Town Hall notice board.

Warning of the impending poison delivery on the rubbish bin. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

By law, vitamins have to be packaged securely, but it seems that rat poison does not. EU membership has not changed this irresponsible and dangerous custom. The bags are left apparently randomly around the villages. I have found them variously on a window sill, dangling from my post-box, even on top of my car! Delivery is clearly irresponsible. Are the poisons used in a more responsible manner? All too often, they are simply placed in heaps around a property, even where they may be a hazard to pets or young children. The safest way to put down such poisons - if you feel you must - is to use a rigid tube with access holes at either end large enough for mice or rats, but too small for other animals.

Packaged rat poison as delivered to local households. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

While vermin within buildings present a problem and possible health hazard, the same is not true of mice and rats in the wild, which have their place, not least in the natural food chain. For an insight into their lifestyles, see the video below, or click here.

Given regular doses of poison, rats become resistant, so poison is not the solution. On the other hand, although the poison is not supposed to attract other animals, it does, and cats and dogs have died through eating it. The more's the pity, as cats keep rats, mice and even snakes under control. For any major rat infestation, the best methods for avoiding the problem of resistance are to let tenacious dogs like Jack Russell terriers hunt them, or to use traps.

Rat poison delivered to a car roof. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

The local councils must spend quite a significant sum of money on distributing these poisons. Looking at the 2015 financial report from Jelsa Council, I was unable to identify exactly how much was spent on the campaigns against vermin and insects, as these items were not identified individually. Is this money being spent wisely? I think not.

In the United Kingdom, poisons against vermin are available, but are not generally distributed by local councils. They were (and maybe still are) distributed on request. Some sixty years ago, when we lived not far from London, my brother, sister and I came home from school to find an unmarked jam jar on the kitchen table. Ever adventurous, my sister delved in. “Cheesy“, she purred, and continued to satisfy her hunger. There was no fridge full of food in those days, indeed no fridge, and the larder was empty. However, Brother and I were more cautious, and refused her kind offer to share. Our mother's horror when she came home from work sometime later and asked where the rat poison was can be imagined. Sister spent the night in hospital, where diligent stomach pumping saved her life. I think that was the last time the local council left unmarked rat poison in anyone's home in an innocent-looking, insecure jam jar.

On Hvar in recent years I have managed to stop the deliveries by putting up notices round my property saying 'Otrov ne hvala' ('Poison, no thanks'), a tactic I recommend to anyone who does not want to be burdened with handling or storing hazardous substances.

My warning notice: No poisons!

Uncontrolled poison distribution is obviously hazardous. Coupled with the fact that poison is not an efficient method of controlling pests, the current policy needs to be reviewed, and practices need to be substantially improved - as a matter of extreme urgency.

© Vivian Grisogono 2016

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Small mammals in Wytham Woods University of Oxford
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