Image: Man holds dead rats.
Eduardo Verdugo  /  AP file
Victor Vargas holds dead rats found on his farm in Atascaderos, in northwestern Mexico, on Monday.
updated 12/14/2004 7:43:26 AM ET 2004-12-14T12:43:26

A remote farming town in northwestern Mexico appears to have turned the tide against a rat infestation that threatened the corn harvest and businesses, a state health official said Monday.

Imported cats and cash bounties failed to rid Atascaderos of the prolific rodents eating their way through the settlement of about 3,000 people.

But in recent weeks a World War II-era rat trap, a blood-thinning serum and a little housekeeping have allowed the town to beat back the rats, said Javier Lozano, director-general of health services for the state of Chihuahua.

Atascaderos appeared to have killed more than 85 percent of its rats, Lozano said Monday, a day after returning from an extended visit to the village.

Villagers recently started leaving bags of food soaked with an anticoagulant drug. Rats that eat the tainted food die from internal bleeding.

“It’s a lethal dose for the rat but not for just any mammal,” said Lozano, explaining that dogs and children remain safe.

Lessons from America
A rat drowning mechanism, introduced to the town by a retired Massachusetts salesman, also has proven effective, he said.

On a voluntary mission, Stephen Petren traveled from the United States to provide lessons on how to drown rats in a barrel.

Petren said he learned the trick in 1951 from his biology professor, a World War II soldier who saw the traps in action in France.

The rats are lured up a ladder to a paper-covered drum by molasses and corn for seven days. On the eighth day the top rung of the ladder is removed and the rats are forced to jump onto the drum. But since a cross was cut through the thick parchment-type paper on the final day, the rats fall into the drum of water where they drown.

Most believe the rats traveled from Chihuahua City, about 300 miles to the north, hidden among wooden poles brought in to set up the village’s electricity two years ago.

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Desperate farmers fought back, but nothing seemed to work at first.

Crude traps and poison ended up killing cats and other rat predators. Authorities announced they would send in up to 700 cats for a frontal attack on the rats, but only 50 cats were gathered and some died shortly after arriving.

Finally, a “mixed system” of sophisticated mechanical and chemical traps appears to have the rats on the run, Lozano reported.

Rodent infestation experts have said it will be nearly impossible to eradicate the rats and that villagers will have to learn to control the population.

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