The Vietnam Investment Review
February 8, 1999
Catching Rats in the Year of the CatWhen Nguyen Huu Van slaughtered around 30,000 rats within several months he became an overnight household name across the northern Thai Binh province. Van, they began exclaiming around his home Hung Hadistrict, was the King of Ratkillers."I will kill more and teach others my method of killing them. They are our enemies," declared the 34-year old farmer, revealing that he'd killed as many as 600 of the long-tailed vermin in one night.Van had led by example. His stupendous efforts were an inspiration to thousands of Vietnamese farmers who in 1997 joined an official campaign against what is arguably Vietnam's foremost sworn foe.Yearly rats are blamed for the destruction of hundreds of thousands of hectares of rice and grain fields. According to a local press report, Vietnam killed more than 82 million rats in the nationwide crop protection campaign of 1998. About seventy million of them were trapped while 12 million were killed with bio-chemicals or poisonous baits, the daily newspaper Sai Gon Giai Phong recently reported .The Government spent more than 10 billion dong ($722,000) on anti-rat propaganda, training and awards last year and some $300,000 in the previous year. At the end of Van's year of prominence, 1997, some 55 million rats were said to have been killed nationwide. But the effort did not prevent the pests laying waste to some 330,000 hectares of rice fields and 40,000 hectares of vegetables.One feature of 1998's campaign was an official prohibition on the commercial killing and eating of cats and snakes, two creatures which can prove invaluable in keeping down rat populations. The Prime Minister issued orders to curb cat exports to China, a country with a wealth of cat meat restaurants. Other predators of the rat, such as dogs, owls and civet cats were also given better protection under newly announced rules."Thai Binh province is ranked among the top five localities for killing rats. An estimated 7.1 million rats were caught last year and my method has contributed to this achievement," reflected Van.What made him want to become the king of rat killers? "My determination came when I realised that 20 per cent of our ricefields and 80 per cent of our corn crops are typically destroyed by rats," he explained, before reeling off his favorite rat-kill statistics. At first, he recalled, he had been trapping around 10 of his enemy a night. This tally quickly increased to 50, then 300 to 400 before he hit his record of nearly 600 in one night. Unlike counterparts who rely on poisonous baits, Van has spent around $70 on buying wood and made around 300 wooden traps."I studied the weaknesses of rats who are afraid of light and try to escape it by running along walls. I put the traps on their escape routes," revealed Van, adding: "After a catch a trap must be put under water for at least three hours so that the smell of the dead rat disappears." Local authorities where Van lives recruited him to teach farmers across his district and province the method of killing rats without the need for poisonous baits. "I have invested money and energy and it paid off. The local district pay me around $70 a month, that is a lot for anyone living in rural areas," said Van.According to the National Animals and Plants Protection laws, Van's method is to be encouraged. However, law enforcers point out that the use of poison and electricity in the pursuit of rats must be banned as many enemies of the vermin, such as dogs, snakes, cats and even humans, have been regularly mistakenly caught in traps employing these elements. In recent times seven people in Hon Dat district of Kien Giang were reported killed after they ate dogs, snakes and cats which had ingested poisoned rats."My method requires no big capital, hurts no cat, kills no one and, added to that, rats are good food for livestock," Van concluded.In Mekong Delta areas, authorities are encouraging people to raise dogs and pythons instead of cats as they argue that while cats keep homes clear of vermin, they are no match for field rats, which are often bigger than the cats themselves."We are preparing for a new campaign as it's now the rats' mating season and one female rat can give birth to as much as 10 babe rats," said an official at the Vietnam Ecology and Biological Institute.