Friday 26 December 2014

Rat infestation at Bukit Batok

Bukit Batok's rat horror days are over
NEA says no more complaints; HDB cleared away vegetation
By Carolyn Khew and Andrea Ng, The Straits Times, 20 Mar 2015

AFTER more than 300 hours of monitoring for rat movement, 20 infrared cameras deployed to track them at night and the clearing of vegetation, the Bukit Batok rat problem seems to have been solved - at least for now.

Over 230 rats were killed in a hilly area near the Bukit Batok MRT station in Bukit Batok Central, and residents say the days of rat horror are over.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said there has not been any feedback on rats at the vacant plot of land - about the size of a football field - since it was declared rat-free in January.

The Housing Board (HDB) started clearing the vegetation on the hill after the completion of rodent eradication. It did not reveal the cost of eradicating the rats.

"We are clearing the undergrowth in the forested area, as well as a few trees which are in danger of falling, so as to better maintain the land," said an HDB spokesman. "Keeping the land well-kept will minimise the recurrence of rodent infestation and facilitate the removal of hiding ground for stray dogs."

During the operation, pest controllers found about 10kg of food left for stray dogs in the area, which was said to have contributed to the rat woes.

The HDB is currently re-turfing parts of the hill. "Newly-planted vegetation will need time to grow," said the spokesman.

The Straits Times understands that the undergrowth was cleared manually. The re-turfing of grass will be completed in a few weeks. Surveillance cameras have been put near the fencing on the hill to monitor those who feed stray dogs indiscriminately.

The rat problem first came to light last December after Bukit Batok resident Ryan Keith Smith took videos and pictures of the rodents and posted them online.

Pest controllers spent the first part of the extermination process attacking the rats' nests and burrows. It involved about 30 pest controllers, who scoured the area and used infrared cameras and binoculars to track rodent activity.

Star Pest Control general manager Bernard Chan, who led the exercise, told The Straits Times the clearing of thick vegetation will make it easier to spot rats if they are still around.

Pest controllers are still monitoring the area once or twice a week for rodent activity, he added. They look out for tell-tale signs such as rat droppings, food waste and rodent nests.

"We have not detected any (rat) movement at the moment, which is a healthy sign," he said. "It's unlikely that they will return unless there's food available."

An NEA spokesman said it has stepped up inspections of the 13 NEA-licensed food shops near the area and found no infestation there.

"All the food shops have engaged licensed pest-control contractors and have also increased the frequency of the pest-control measures," the spokesman said.

"NEA has also reminded all the food handlers and food shop operators to practise proper refuse management and to properly store their food and raw ingredients at all times." These measures would help ensure no food is lying around to lure the rats back.

Residents have noted an overall improvement. They have also noticed fewer stray dogs now.

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said it received several dogs from the area from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority. They have been rehomed, said SPCA executive director Corinne Fong. It is not aware if the other stray dogs have moved elsewhere.

With the rats gone from the hill, residents are hoping it can become a place for all to enjoy. Said Madam Vimala Devi, 51, who is self-employed: "It would be good if something can be built, such as a jogging track."

Stop feeding stray dogs in Bukit Batok, public urged
Rat woes blamed on leftovers; SPCA says feeding can be left to core group
By Danson Cheong And Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 24 Dec 2014

THE Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has urged the public to support a core group of dog feeders taking care of stray dogs on the forested hill beside the Bukit Batok MRT station and refrain from feeding the dogs themselves.

Animal welfare groups said two groups of feeders operate in the area, a core group on a routine scheduled programme, and another group of indiscriminate feeders they say are to blame for befouling the area with leftover food.

SPCA executive director Corinne Fong said the six to eight core feeders have worked with the Jurong Town Council since July last year to feed, trap, neuter and re-home the stray dogs. When they began, there were 10 adults and two puppies, but about six have been re-homed, she said.

The approved feeders work in a locked, fenced-in area and clean up after they are done, she said.

The hill, as big as a football field, has come under scrutiny after an operation to wipe out a rat infestation began last week.

About 200 rats have been killed as of Monday night, and the situation has improved greatly, said the Housing Board, which manages the plot of land. Pest controllers are using infra-red cameras to monitor the remaining rats.

The infestation was blamed on leftover scraps from the indiscriminate feeding of stray dogs.

"We did surveillance and have seen cars drive by, stop by the side of the road and toss food on the side of the hill," said Ms Fong.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) has received some 100 complaints on stray dogs and the feeding of them at Bukit Batok Central and its vicinity from January to November.

"While the feeding of stray animals is well intended, feeding becomes an offence when it causes littering of the environment," said an AVA spokesman.

But the furore appears to have forced this group of feeders to stop their activities for now.

One of them, who wanted to be known only as Betty, said she takes turns to feed the dogs with three others. She told The Straits Times they are sometimes chased away before they can clean up. "I told my friend, I give up already. We are doing something good here but I feel like a criminal running around," she said.

Show tolerance to community animals: SPCA

I REFER to the letters by Dr George Wong Seow Choon ("Concerted effort needed to tackle rat problem"; Monday) and Ms Dipa Swaminathan ("Dog feeders just showing they care"; Forum Online, Monday).

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) is heartened to note the genuine care that many well-intentioned dog feeders exhibit.

We dispute the notion that community dogs are ultimately responsible for the rodent infestation in Bukit Batok, and thus disagree with Dr Wong's suggestion for the SPCA and Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority to "trap and remove all the stray dogs in the area".

We must recognise that the community dogs have no place to go. While the SPCA and other animal welfare groups have tried their best to house the dogs, they face space and resource constraints.

For the record, the SPCA does not round up healthy animals from the streets, unless they are injured, ill or distressed.

Often, members of the public have been observed casually feeding the dogs without cleaning up the leftover food.

There is already a core group of community feeders and caregivers tending to the dogs' basic nutritional needs and care, and they would be happy to help in resolving any issues concerning the dogs.

Community animals are part of our living environment. The only homes many of them have known are the streets and housing estates that they have lived in all this while. Removing them could create a void that would be filled by another group sooner or later.

In the light of this issue, which has understandably brought differing viewpoints to the fore, the SPCA asks for tolerance with regard to community animals that share the environment with us. A little more empathy would go a long way.

Corinne Fong (Ms)
Executive Director
Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Singapore
ST Forum, 27 Dec 2014

Feed, catch, neuter to control numbers of strays
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 24 Dec 2014

THE aroma hits you even with the doors of the vacant Defu Lane factory lot half shut - 5kg of white rice steaming in a cooker with roast pork, chicken and duck bones.

"It smells so good, even I feel like eating it sometimes," said Madam Tay Mei Mei, 44, in Mandarin.

The food is not meant for people, but for about 100 stray dogs that Madam Tay feeds every day in the Kim Chuan and Defu Lane area.

Her goal is to gain their trust so they can eventually be sterilised.

Around 70 per cent have been neutered so far.

"Once the dogs get familiar with me, I can catch them and send them to the vet to be sterilised," said the housewife, who sometimes gets nearby factory workers to help her.

Animal welfare groups say this is the most effective way to get stray dog populations under control, and Madam Tay has been doing it for about six years now.

She said that she got the idea after spotting a factory worker sharing a packet of rice with three dogs in the area.

"I just had dinner at a restaurant nearby when I saw it. That broke my heart," she said.

In the vacant factory lot, which she is allowed to use free, she stores around 30 cartons of dog food, and every morning and afternoon she scoops out the day's rice into plastic bags and tubs.

She makes her rounds in a pickup truck, and the dogs come out wagging their tails and nuzzling her legs.

"They recognise me," the mother of three said. "When I go home, my kids at home, all they do is call me 'ma' and go back into their rooms."

Most of the food, like the pork, duck and chicken bones she collects nightly, are donations from friends and other animal lovers.

Madam Tay also gets around $500 in cash donations each month, which she uses to buy rice - going through 300kg of it each month.

Sterilisation fees are sponsored by animal welfare group Save our Street Dogs (SOSD).

It is a dirty, thankless job, and Madam Tay does almost everything by hand, from catching the dogs to mixing the rice with canned dog food.

"Some people call me stupid, but this is something I enjoy and I am very happy to do," she said.

Animal welfare groups say responsible feeders like Madam Tay are on the right track.

"If you only feed them, the strays get stronger and emboldned when the packs get bigger, and can cause security problems," said Mr Ricky Yeo, president of Action for Singapore Dogs.

"But if you have sterilised dogs also occupying the same space and competing for the same resources, the population remains stable and declines over time," he said.

Rat problem at Bukit Batok largely under control: Authorities
Bukit Batok residents will be conducting patrols and engaging dog feeders in the area which has been infested with rats. This comes as the operation to clear out the burrows enters its fifth day.
By Sharon See, Channel NewsAsia, 22 Dec 2014

Authorities have said the rat infestation problem at Bukit Batok is largely under control. About 200 rats have been caught so far as the operation to clear out the burrows enters its fifth day.

Bukit Batok's rat infestation problem came to light last week after a video taken by a resident went viral. Five days after the operation to tackle the infestation began, pest controllers believe the problem has now "subsided".

The next phase, which will take place after Christmas, is to monitor and control the situation. This will involve the setting up of infrared motion detectors and the planting of baits. This phase is expected to last another two weeks.

Mr Bernard Chan, the manager of Star Pest Control, said: "To eliminate all of the rats is impossible because there will be roof rats in a forested area. They survive through plants and fruits.

"As long as there is no outside food source, they will not be able to multiply so easily. We can continue to do some frequent monitoring - that means coming by once every two weeks to do a check and see whether there is any migration or growth in the population of rats."

Authorities said they had been aware of the rat problem in the area since late last year and had taken measures to control it. However, they said the issue resurfaced in recent months due to the "continuous indiscriminate feeding of the dogs in the area".

The Housing and Development Board said it did not receive any complaints about the rat problem before the video by 33-year-old simulation system operator Ryan Keith Smith spread online.

Mr David Ong, an MP for Jurong GRC, said: "One of the things we are doing now is that on the community-front, we will be mobilising our community on patrol to do more frequent patrols around this area so that we can engage the dog feeders to not leave food indiscriminately, as well as to work with the National Environment Agency to see how we can raise the level of monitoring and enforcement on food littering."

Pest controllers have said that dog feeders continued to leave food in the area even after the operation began.

Bukit Batok rat infestation larger than initially thought: Pest controllers
By Hetty Musfirah Abdul Khamid, Channel NewsAsia, 20 Dec 2014

Pest busters who are trying to contain the rat infestation beside Bukit Batok MRT said on Saturday (Dec 20) they believe the infestation is affecting a bigger area than expected.

They added that efforts are being hampered by bad weather while new traces of food which can attract the rodents, have been discovered.

Thirty pest controllers have been combing the hill beside Bukit Batok MRT station to tackle the rat infestation. More than 140 rodents have been caught as of day three of the operation and more rats have been found further inside the forested area.

"We can go further deeper into the hill and other parts behind the hill as well and we do notice that there are activities over there," said Bernard Chan, manager of Star Pest Control. “We have created some simple road paths for the workers to access and conduct their work, and currently we are setting up more trappings.”

Authorities say food left behind for stray dogs have contributed to the rat infestation. Despite calls for more responsible behaviour, new traces of food have been found.

"For the last two days, because we are conducting operations here, the dog feeder actually detoured and went behind the hill,” said Mr Chan. “Last night, we discovered that they are throwing the food just behind the hill, which is a restricted area. We have also discovered that the amount of food that the dog feeder is providing the dog is quite a large amount, something about 10 kilogrammes."

The pest busters say the rats caught are roof rats, though they were earlier identified by another pest buster as sewer rats. Roof rats have been known to cause damage to property.

"They are definitely good climbers and also good jumpers and their movement is much faster than sewer rats,” said Mr Chan. “If the population is not under control, if the population is overgrown, I think the rats will start to migrate into the stations and can cause more damage, not only to the properties' cables, but also migrate to the food establishments.

“Based on their behaviour, they will also need to gnaw something to sharpen their teeth and they might cause damage to the facility. We have seen this before, where they have bitten through the phone cables, land lines or even live wire as well in other places actually like in commercial buildings.”

Pest controllers say the operation may take more than a week to complete.

Rat infestation near Bukit Batok MRT
By Nur Afifah bte Ariffin, Channel NewsAsia, 17 Dec 2014

A rat infestation has been spotted in the vicinity of Bukit Batok MRT station. Simulation system operator Ryan Keith, 33, is a longtime Bukit Batok resident, and recorded a video of the rat infestation on Tuesday evening (Dec 16), at the hill just beside the train station.

"I was there for about 10 minutes and I think I saw more than 50 rats," he told Channel NewsAsia. "This spot is near to many eateries, and rats can breed very quickly and bite through wires, so I am quite concerned."

He said he has approached the National Environment Agency (NEA) about the problem, and they told him that "they will look into it".

Channel NewsAsia understands that this is a plot of state land under the management of the Housing and Development Board (HDB), as an agent of the Singapore Land Authority. Channel NewsAsia has approached the HDB for comment. 

When Channel NewsAsia visited the area on Wednesday evening, more than 30 rats were seen scurrying about, although residents say that the number may sometimes be higher.

The MRT station is adjacent to several food establishments, including McDonald's and a hawker centre.

Some McDonald's staff Channel NewsAsia spoke to said they are worried that the rats might eventually enter the restaurant.

A pack of stray dogs were also spotted near the rats' nest. Cleaners working at the MRT station said they have seen people feeding the dogs in the evening, despite a large sign that forbids them from doing so. Residents also said that the remnants of the food given to the dogs are eventually eaten by the rats. The rats appear aggressive, and the dogs seem afraid of them.

Some residents are worried about the diseases that these rats and stray dogs may carry, and are calling for the authorities to take action. 

"One day, if they run out of food, they will just go to the eateries around here. They might even run to the station and people might get bitten," said a resident Channel NewsAsia spoke to.

Another concerned resident said: "Before, there were just a lot of stray dogs. Recently you can see a lot of mice running all over the place. I think the authorities should do something about this because there are a lot of food stalls here. It is dangerous."

Rats! They're adapting and multiplying
More food waste plus built-up environment help rodents thrive
By Feng Zengkun, Environment Correspondent, The Straits Times, 8 Jan 2015

SOME of Singapore's rats may be changing their behaviour to adapt to the changing environment.

The Norway or sewer rat, for example, traditionally burrows into the ground to make its home, or lives in sewers.

However, with Singapore becoming more built-up, pest busters have noticed increasing numbers of the rats simply living in gaps in or between building slabs and other structural defects.

Companies that provide rodent control services said the situation seems to be worsening.

Four of them told The Straits Times that they have received up to 60 per cent more enquiries related to rats in the past year.

Star Pest Control, which dealt with a rat infestation in Bukit Batok that made the headlines last month, said it handles nearly 60 cases a month now, an increase of about 40 per cent from 2013.

Its general manager Bernard Chan said: "The scale of the work has also increased. In the past, a mall might want us to deal with just the one food shop that has rats.

"Now, it will engage us to deal with all of the food shops, just in case."

Another company, PestBusters, fields about 130 enquiries a month on average about rats, compared to about 80 a month on average in 2013.

Its business development manager Angela Toh said several malls and commercial properties have also requested more frequent inspections and extermination services.

"They used to want them on a monthly basis, but now, when they put out a tender, they want the inspection and eradication to be done on a weekly or even twice- weekly basis," said Ms Toh.

"The number of rats has definitely increased.

"They are usually active at night, so when you see them in the daytime, as in the Bukit Batok case, it's due to overpopulation," she added.

The companies said that construction activity may have flushed out the rats from their homes.

The growth in Singapore's human population has also led to more food waste that is not disposed of properly, causing the rat population to grow faster, they added.

Increasing connectivity between buildings, such as malls that are linked to each other or to other buildings like hotels, has also allowed the rats to range and spread farther.

Also, the public's tolerance for the rodents may have fallen, said Star Pest Control's Mr Chan.

"Now, with the aid of digital media, people can snap a photo of a rat in a mall and put it online easily. That creates awareness and demand for rat elimination services," he explained.

Tackling the rat problem is not just about hunting them down and killing them.

Mr Carl Baptista, technical director of Origin Exterminators, said that infestations could recur if pest busters catch only the male rats but not the pregnant female ones.

"The pregnant rats don't venture far, so other rats go out and scavenge for them. These may be the ones that get caught," he said.

"All firms should be identifying the sex of the rats they catch," he added.

"If the pregnant females are not caught, the problem will come back," he said.

Bukit Batok declared 'rat free'
Pest busters say more than 300 rats killed over 2 weeks; area to be monitored
By Hoe Pei Shan And Samantha Boh, The Straits Times, 8 Jan 2015

THE nightmare is over for Bukit Batok residents with pest controllers declaring the area rat free after killing more than 300 rats over two weeks.

There was no physical evidence of rats in the area by the third week of the operation, based on human assessments in the day and infrared camera recordings at night, said Mr Bernard Chan, manager of Star Pest Control.

Mr Chan said that his team concluded the extermination process yesterday.

The rat infestation first came to light last month after Bukit Batok resident Ryan Keith Smith, 33, took videos and pictures of the rodents and posted them online.

Pest controllers spent the first part of the extermination process attacking the rodents' nests and burrows.

More than 230 rats were killed in the first seven days by about 30 pest controllers who scoured the hilly area, about the size of a football field.

The next two weeks were spent monitoring and locating the survivors to ensure that they do not migrate to other areas. This involved the use of infrared cameras to monitor rat activity at night.

Pest controllers also conducted surveillance with binoculars from vantage points such as multi-storey carparks. An average of 10 rats were killed in the second week but, by the third week, the rats had disappeared.

"Shelter, water and food are needed for rats' survival, so if you can break the chain, you can break the infestation," said Mr Chan, who has been in the business of controlling pests for the past 11 years.

"This Bukit Batok incident isn't normal in Singapore, but it was still controllable. I've seen worse."

The Housing Board, which has been working with the pest controllers on the issue, said that it would continue to monitor the area regularly to minimise the recurrence of rodent infestations.

Rodents will proliferate if food sources are available, added an HDB spokesman.

"For anti-rodent efforts to remain effective, we wish to remind the public not to leave food for strays."

Parliament: More than 35,000 rat burrows treated last year
By Feng Zengkun, The Straits Times, 20 Jan 2015

More than 35,000 rodent burrows were found and treated from January to November last year by the National Environment Agency (NEA) to get rid of rats.

The agency has also deployed more enforcement officers to make sure food establishments follow good hygiene practices and do not leave food out, said Second Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Grace Fu in Parliament on Tuesday.

Her remarks came in the wake of several rat infestations in Singapore recently. In one case, more than 300 rats were killed in a two-week operation at an area near the Bukit Batok MRT station, after videos and pictures of the rodents were posted online.

Ms Fu said the key to reducing the rodents' numbers was to eliminate their food sources.

She also gave an update on the dengue situation.

Between January and November last year, more than 16,000 mosquito breeding sites were found, a decrease of 19 per cent from the same period in 2013.

The NEA's gravitrap mosquito traps has also caught some 32,000 mosquitoes since the agency's surveillance programme was piloted last year.

The agency is also looking into reducing the population of local dengue-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquito by infecting the male Aedes mosquitoes with a type of bacteria that results in female mosquitoes producing eggs that do not hatch.

More than 10,000 rodent burrows detected in just two months last year
By Robin Choo, TODAY, 23 Jan 2015

They could smell a rat several thousand times over in just two months last year, a sign of how rodents in the heartlands can easily turn into a major problem if left unchecked.

Between October and November, the National Environment Agency (NEA) detected more than 10,000 rodent burrows, with 90 per cent of them found in housing estates.

The figure, revealed by the agency yesterday, represents a sharp increase from the 6,400 burrows discovered during the same period in 2013.

On Tuesday, Second Minister for Environment and Water Resources, Ms Grace Fu, told Parliament that 35,000 rat burrows were detected and treated by the NEA in the first 11 months of last year.

“We are concerned about the increase in the number of burrows detected,” the NEA said, adding that the agency received 4,106 instances of feedback last year, compared with 3,031 in 2013.

The increase in rat problems could be partly due to the availability of multiple food sources, said an NEA spokesperson.

The NEA also noted that a single female rat can produce as many as 2,500 rats — which means that the rodent population can multiply quickly within a short period of time if left uncontrolled.

Last month, reports of rodent infestation next to Bukit Batok MRT Station led to a public outcry.

More than 300 rats were killed by pest controllers after nearly three weeks of extermination operations.

The NEA said yesterday it had conducted surveillance at more than 144,000 food retail establishments last year.

It has also audited 85 out of more than 200 shopping malls so far, which involves, among other things, physical site inspections and advising mall management on what needs to be done to improve overall rodent control measures.

Pest controllers told TODAY they had seen an increase in requests, from residential homes to large commercial buildings, to deal with rodent issues over the past year. Some saw as much as a 30-per-cent rise in calls between last year and the previous year.

In an increasingly urbanised Singapore, rodents have “evolved” in their nesting, harbourage and foraging behaviour, said Ms Audrey Ong from the business development department of ORIGIN Exterminators, a pest control company.

She added that general industry practices of dealing with rats have not kept up with that development.

“Given that rodents are generally adaptable and intelligent creatures … there needs to be a paradigm shift in how we ‘outsmart’ rodents.”

Mr Patrick Chong, managing director of Aardwolf Pestkare, said the increase in food littering in common spaces may have contributed to the rise in the rodent problem. He said due to a lack of manpower, smaller food operators often fail to keep their premises clean and dispose of the rubbish after operating hours.

Pest control agencies suggest that building owners, building management and food operators should take a more proactive approach in dealing with rodents, instead of simply reacting to the problem when it crops up.

Consistent and regular monitoring of premises would be a better long-term solution, they say, as this allows swifter response to any emerging rat problems.

However, Mr Chong noted that budget constraints may make it difficult for companies to adopt such an approach.

“At the end of the day, rat control is about ... how committed the person is in wanting to control the rats,” he said.

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