Progress in Pest Technologies
- Despite some serious
attention the perfect trap still eludes us.
by Scott Sambell
In 1897 James Henry Atkinson lodged a
patent for the “snap rat trap”. It used a wire bar pressurised by a
spring held in place by a lever which was activated by a
pressure sensitive plate. The rat pushed on the plate – the bar slammed
down on its head.
Pretty basic stuff really.
Of course you have to take into account
that this was the same decade that man invented the dry-plate camera,
the fountain pen and the incandescent light bulb. Nowadays we have
digital cameras that take photos in a resolution 4x greater than the
human eye can distinguish, anything involving a pen has been made
redundant by any number of items with the prefix “i”, and if you are
caught with an incandescent bulb in your house (as opposed to an LED or
CFL) you are liable to be named and shamed on a current affairs program.
So what massive advancements have we made
in rat traps in the last 116 years? Well I recently purchased 50 units
of the most advanced trap commercially available, and the difference to
Atkinson’s invention are two fold – Firstly its mostly made of plastic
and secondly, you can set it with one hand. In a nut shell, not much
Illustration from an early patent for
a continuous rat trapping device.
We could spend the next page and half
discussing why the communications industry has progressed from Marconi’s
radio (1895) to a computer program that searches 18 billion web pages in
under 0.05 seconds, whilst the conservation industry has progressed from
a wooden base to a plastic one – but that would possibly cause us to
stray from the topic slightly.
So, what do we have at our disposal now?
Well apart from the one-handed version of Atkinson’s trap we have –
poison. We’ve been through Warfarin, coumatetralyl, bromodialone,
diphacinone, sodium monoflouroacetate (1080) and the weapon of choice
these days seems to be brodificoum. We’ve tried them as pellets, blocks
and paste. We’ve put them in stations, tunnels, pipes, hand spread them
and dropped them out of helicopters. And in our defence we have gotten a
lot better at killing the stuff we are supposed to be killing and
missing the stuff we are supposed to be saving. Of course it’s still not
perfect by any means.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson once famously said:
“Build a better mouse trap and the world will beat a path to your door”.
Well in our case we are after rats but thats a technicality in the grand
scheme of things. Basically “the perfect trap” has alluded mankind for
centuries. There are those of us at least who believe we know the
criteria for such a revolution. That is, it must:
a) Kill the rat every time
b) Not rely on the rat doing anything
which wasn’t part of its daily intentions anyway
c) Reset itself many times
d) Not kill anything it isn’t supposed to.
There have been some good hard cracks at
it in recent history, and all those of any worth coming out of New
Zealand where we are rightly recognised as the world leader in these
things, but so far all have fallen short.
There was the gas-powered-self-resetting-humane-neck breaker a couple of
years ago. Unfortunately it assumed the rat was eager to climb up to a
bright orange appendage and stick its head into a hole to manipulate a
small wire that couldn’t be less alluring if it had a neon sign above it
stating “rat deaths here”. Not surprisingly
it failed on requirement “b”.
Then there was the Flying-bolt-of-death
trap that also assumed the suicidal rats were not only planning to stick
their head in a small hole that day but also that they wouldn’t work out
that if they approached from the opposite direction, they could eat
through a thin plastic housing and make an informed choice between a
hydraulic ram to the head and nice feed of peanut butter. Suffice to say
most rats chose the peanut butter.
Of course I must mention the electric
shock traps that – although they make extremely entertaining youtube
videos – fail on pretty much all four counts the moment you take them
out of the controlled environment of a television studio.
where to from here?
Well there are two inventions in the
‘research and development stage’ in New Zealand that are vying for the
Ralph Waldo Emerson Ultimate Prize.
Neither involve the rat doing anything
more extraordinary than walking through a tunnel – certainly a favoured
activity of all the rats I have spent the last 5 years studying. One
tunnel has a pressure plate which senses the rat according to its
weight, the other has multiple infra-red beams that sense a rat shaped
presence. Both are ticking all the boxes so far.
Once the traps conclude they are indeed
hosting a rodent which they wish to dispose of, they both shoot it –
with poison. One inventor has perfected his lethal cocktail and assures
me that it will be absorbed through the rat’s skin into its blood stream
thus killing the rat but (and here is the beautiful part) be totally
inert to any third party who decides to eat the recently deceased
rodent. The other inventor is yet to crack the formula but she tells me
her potion will rely on the rat grooming itself post-spray (as they are
such vain creatures) and ingesting the lethal dose.
Both are close but still so far from
‘production stage’. However, when they are ready to go, I will be at the
head of the queue, beating a path to their door.
the pacific rat or kiore with them when they migrated to
Aotearoa and they obviously had confidence in their trapping
ability and techniques to liberate this food source. Some of
fixed location traps are illustrated here along with a fine
image of a portable trap or tawhiti makamaka.
Te Papa Collection