Meet the folks fighting B.C.’s urban rat invasion

Vancouver’s flurry of high-rise construction has had many unintended consequences—including a mass migration of angry rodents

As Vancouver’s real estate boom continues, concerns are being raised about the impact on displaced populations—including, increasingly, the rats unearthed by construction and looking for a home near you.

Chelsea Himsworth, lead researcher on the Vancouver Rat Project, has studied urban rats in the Downtown Eastside and has found they carry several human bacteria including MRSA (an antibiotic-resistant infection) and clostridium difficile, which causes intestinal infections. “Rats are almost like a sponge—basically they absorb these pathogens from their environment, propagate them and potentially spread them to humans.”

She advocates for a citywide strategy in dealing with what she calls a public health threat, pointing to a New York City model that uses both data collection and specific rodent-control bylaws. “The thing that confounds me is people thinking that if you just tweak garbage or tweak a bylaw then the rats will go away. They’re incredibly adaptive. When everything else is gone, I predict there will be rats.”

Herewith, three perspectives from professionals on the battle’s frontlines:

Brett Johnston: the roof rat killer

Owner, Assured Environmental Solutions, Maple Ridge
Number of technicians
: 9
Years in business: 6 as business owner, 20-plus in the industry
% of calls dealing with rats: 25-30%

What is something we don’t understand about rats? The average range of a roof rat, which is the common rat we get in homes, is 250-300 feet. The rat you saw in your backyard may live three houses over.

What’s the worst rat situation you’ve ever seen? I’ve worked in some of the grain terminals on the waterfront. About 15 years ago there was a big strike, and nobody was in there for months. There were piles of grain left behind. When things opened up again, the rats were quite happily running up and down conveyor belts and machinery in broad daylight—it took us months and hundreds and hundreds of traps to get things back under control. 

Lucian Mircioiu: the family catcher

Owner, Bioconcept Management Ltd., New Westminster
Number of technicians
: 2-4, more for bigger jobs
Years in business: 11 as business owner, a few before that as technician
% of calls dealing with rats: 30%

What do people not understand about rats? “They live in large families with an alpha male and an alpha female. They have layers in that society, and the guys who want to take the dominant position will fight in that clan. When you catch a rat in a snap trap, you try to identify its position in the society because it gives information on potential other members in the house.”

What’s the worst rat situation you’ve ever seen? “Probably a basement of a house in Dunbar. We captured eight rats in a crawl space—then we had to clean up the droppings, which were all over the house, to deal with the smell.” 


Ashley Browne: Victoria’s mouse trapper

Service manager, Victoria Pest Control, Victoria
Number of years in business
: 32 years
Number of employees: 12 technicians in Victoria, 1 in Nanaimo
% of calls dealing with rats: 75%

What do we not understand about rats? “Rats are highly intelligent creatures who have developed different ways of communicating because their eyesight is incredibly poor. They communicate chemically through droppings and urine. So rodents might do up to 40 droppings a day to communicate where to go, where to come back to, where the feeding ground is. So we put those droppings on the trap. You can catch them with their own communications.”

What’s the worst rat situation you’ve ever seen? “My record was an old home in Oak Bay. I caught 37 rats in four days inside the house. It was an elderly lady who lived in one room and let the rest of the home run down; the rats had free range of the attic and crawl space.”