Rats! Paris fights back against rodent infestation
Parks in Paris have been closed as the French capital deals with an infestation of rats.
Professional exterminators with decades on the job are struggling to recall infestations as bad as those now forcing the closure of parks, where rats brazenly feed in broad daylight.
Nadine Mahe des Portes inadvertently stepped on a rat on her walk back from work through the city.
"I heard a terrible squeak," the property agent recalled with a shudder. "I thought I'd stepped on a child's toy or something."
City Hall threw open one of the closed parks, the Tour Saint-Jacques square a street away from the River Seine, to show journalists its latest anti-rat drive.
The furry creatures were everywhere, sauntering across footpaths, grazing under bushes and far more bothered by pigeons competing with them for breadcrumbs than by people walking past and the rattle and hum of the rush hour.
Unfortunately for City Hall's exterminators, they also seemed totally uninterested in recently laid traps baited with poison.
The park attendant, Patrick Lambin, said his morning round had yielded just one victim.
Before the park was closed in November, rats foraging for food hung off the rubbish bins and regularly scampered through the children's play area, sowing panic, he said.
Mr Lambin suspects the infestation has been made worse by Parisians and tourists who leave food out for the pigeons and, in particular, a homeless man who comes by most mornings with bags of stale bread recovered from local eateries.
"The rats are profiting," he said.
In a 39-year career of extermination, City Hall's Gilles Demodice said he had rarely seen anything quite like it.
"A few years back, you'd not see so many rats during the day," he said. "Now it's night and day, all the time. So it's a big worry."
European Union regulations governing the arsenal of poisons and traps that can be used against rats have complicated the job of extermination, he explained.
He said they used to drop biscuits of poison directly into rats' nests and seal them up, but that technique is no longer allowed, forcing them to instead lay black plastic boxes of poison - which the rats studiously ignored - among the bushes.
"It's a lot less effective," he said.