CALGARY - Officials with the City of Calgary are trying to figure out whether a badly decomposed rat in a found in a southeast neighbourhood Friday was a pet or came into the city on a truck.
Alberta prides itself on being rat-free, and has only seen isolated cases of the rodents since the 1950s. Pet rats are forbidden under provincial law and rat sightings are treated with the utmost urgency.
The discovery comes only days after Alberta's agriculture minister announced that more than a dozen Norway rats were discovered and killed at the dump in Medicine Hat, Alta., which is a few hours drive east of Calgary. Following his announcement, dozens more have been found and killed at the Medicine Hat region's landfill.
"We take this as a high priority for us, so if people have any thoughts that they've seen a rat, call us right away," said Greg Steinraths, acting director of City of Calgary Animal and Bylaw Services.
The city says the rodent was collected by a bylaw officer after a resident found the rat near his property.
No other evidence of rat activity has been found in the area.
The neighbourhood will be monitored on an ongoing basis until bylaw officers are satisfied there are no more rats.
"Because it is located right by a major thoroughfare, our initial thought is that it is possibly off of a truck," said Steinraths.
It's possible to tell the difference between a pet rat and a feral rat based on the animal's colouring, tail length and skull size, he said.
Calgary gets about 200 rat reports a year, only about four to six of which end up actually being the real thing.
"The majority of those that we go and investigate are muskrats, squirrels, chipmunks — you name it," said Steinraths.
In Medicine Hat, bylaw officers who usually relocate bull snakes will now take the reptiles to the landfill in the hopes that they will eat the rats. That's in addition to baited traps and high-definition trail cameras to track the scurrying scavengers.
Ed Jollymore, Medicine Hat's waste manager, has said it's all hands on deck to tackle the infestation and believes the media attention the rat problem is getting will help.
Alberta estimates its rat control measures have prevented what would have been $1 billion in rodent-caused damage over the last 50 years.
Agricultural fieldmen, known by Albertans as the "Rat Patrol," eliminate invading rats within a control zone 600 kilometres long and 30 kilometres wide along the province's eastern boundary.
The province says one pair of rats can thrive and begin a chain of breeding that can produce as many as 15,000 offspring a year, as long as they are close to food and sheltered from the weather and predators.
Public education campaigns in Alberta routinely stress the importance of keeping the province rat-free. Members of the public are encouraged to learn to identify Norway rats and are urged to alert provincial officials if they spot one.