A campaign to eradicate rodents from Paris streets is causing quite an uproar among French animal activists, who have likened the initiative to a “genocide.”
The City of Light has recently seen a surge in its rat population, threatening its position as the world’s premier tourist destination.
City Hall officials have now officially declared “war” on rats, and are bringing the heavy artillery out to fight their new enemy.
Several parks, including the Champs de Mars surrounding the iconic Eiffel Tower, are closed for two weeks, while a team of expert exterminators takes to the city’s maze of sewer tunnels armed with poisonous baiting traps.
But not everyone is happy with the rodent crackdown.
An online petition set up by animal rights activist Josette Benchetrit, “Stop the genocide of rats,” is demanding an immediate end to the city’s program, and has already garnered more than 21,500 signatures.
“We are killing all these unfortunates without mercy in the name of our phobia of rats” she says. “But the phobia of rats is a social phobia like that of spiders” she explains.
Speaking to French conservative newspaper Le Figaro, Pierre Falgayrac, author of the book Men and Rats, also deplored a “terrible lack of knowledge” about rats in French society. Citing the animated feature Ratatouille, where a rat becomes the head of a famous Parisian restaurant, he notes: “In cartoons, the rodent is always presented in a negative light.”
Arguing that contrary to the city’s pollution problem,“rats don’t kill anyone,” Benchetrit is now pushing for alternative solutions: one of them being a bespoke contraceptive plan to keep the vermin’s population down.
“We need to find alternatives like a contraceptive policy,” Benchetrit told French daily Le Parisien. She pitched her idea in a letter to Paris’ mayor Anne Hidalgo.
“You have to teach people to know the rats and not be afraid. I would like to teach people to fight their phobias rather than rats. We must stop this violence. That is a bad example” she added.
In the eye of the storm is George Salines, the head of Paris’ environmental services in charge of the campaign, whom Benchetrit calls the “killer in chief”.
But Salines has hit back at critics and defended the campaign. “Animal lovers don’t like it, nor do I because I love animals too,” he told AFP. “But when it’s an emergency… we have to carry out operations to destroy them,” he added. “Rats multiply very, very fast […] As long as they have food, water and places to burrow, they’ll multiply.”
Beyond the sanitary aspect, Georges Salines also speaks of “visual nuisance,” likely to harm the image of Paris.
According to Le Parisien, the French capital is now home to nearly 4 million rodents. That’s 1.75 rats per Parisian.