A drastic increase in the rat population on the Medford/Somerville campus and in neighboring areas of Somerville has prompted action by Tufts, the West Somerville Neighborhood Association (WSNA) and Somerville officials to contain the rats’ spread and decrease their numbers around campus.
The rats are primarily causing problems near the upper portion of Packard Avenue, along Professors Row by the outdoor tennis courts and in the area of Curtis Street and Curtis Avenue.
“These rats can pose significant risks to the Tufts community and cause significant damage to property, and they can spread diseases to humans both directly (through bites, contaminating food and water) and indirectly (by way of ticks, mites and fleas),” WSNA Board of Directors member Edward Beuchert told the Daily in an email.
The rat burrows are typically four inches wide and are often started under porches or under dumpsters that are broken, consistently left open or placed over dirt instead of asphalt or a sidewalk, according to Beuchert.
Members of the Tufts community should contact the Department of Facilities Services if they see a rat or a potential burrow on campus.
“Students living off campus, particularly those in the affected Curtis, Chetwynd or Conwell Avenue areas are advised to look over the exterior areas of their residences to see if there are any holes or burrows and immediately report signs of digging or other infestation to their landlords who should then hire an exterminator,” Beuchert said.
There is some disagreement as to the cause of the recent increase of the rat population. Both Beuchert and Anne Boy, also a member of the WSNA Board of Directors, agree that likely causes are the summer 2011 construction project to rebuild the tennis courts and renovate the houses along Professors Row, as well as improper disposal of garbage.
“There was an existing rat population in the middle of the Tufts campus that was forced to move by the construction,” Beuchert said. “When they relocated to the western edge of campus they found easy access to food and new places to live, and they flourished in that environment.”
The Tufts administration does not believe that last summer’s construction project led to the recent infestation and rather believes that improper disposal of garbage is responsible for the infestation, according to Tufts’ Director of Community Relations Barbara Rubel.
“Since the burrows are located near dumpsters in several instances, it seems that improper disposal of garbage, especially food garbage, is most likely responsible,” Rubel told the Daily in an email.
Several steps have been taken to reduce the rat population on campus. According to both Rubel and Beuchert, Tufts hired professional exterminators who introduced poisonous powder in the burrows and blocked entrances to burrows by filling holes in the stone walls along Professors Row.
“[The Department of Facilities Services], along with the exterminator, will monitor these areas and take further steps if the problem persists,” Rubel explained.
The City of Somerville has implemented the use of poison bait traps in the affected areas on multiple occasions, according to Beuchert.
“Poison bait is only effective when the rats have no other source of food, so that’s why we felt that the Tufts winter break with most students gone provided the absolute best opportunity to attack the infestation,” he explained.
According to Beuchert, the WSNA in December circulated flyers around buildings on campus and in Somerville explaining the rat problem and outlining ways to help control and reduce the rat population.
“Folks seem to think that it’s OK to drop food waste along a city sidewalk, that the birds will eat it,” Boy told the Daily in an email. “Such tossed food is far more likely to be eaten by rodents squirrels, mice and rats. Rats will eat and thrive on just about anything.”
Rubel advised that proper disposal of food waste is essential in quelling the infestation and that students should utilize trash receptacles on a regular basis, instead of allowing trash or recyclables to pile up outside of a dumpster.
“Make sure trash containers are put out the day of pick-up and report to the landlord if the barrels are defective,” she said.