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Predators Mobilized to Keep Rats at Bay
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Foxes, wolves and eagles have been deployed in the northern part of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region to help contain an outbreak of plains rats.


Local authorities have been training foxes, which are natural predators of rats, since 2004 in a bid to help keep the destructive pests at bay. The fox force is expected to come in handy this year.


"Because of the warm weather last winter, plains rats had a chance to breed in large numbers in northern Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The situation is threatening some 2 million hectares of grassland," said Shayila Wu, an official at the autonomous region's department of animal husbandry.


About 400,000 hectares of grasslands in Fuyun and Qinghe, two counties in the Altai region, have already been overrun by plains rats, threatening the livelihoods of local people and causing great damage to the environment, he added.


About 30 percent of the Fuyun East grassland has been attacked by invading rats, and more than 667 hectares of grassland have been destroyed. Several dozen herdsmen have been displaced.


The local government spent more than 80,000 yuan ($10,400) to buy 20 foxes in 2004 and set up the Xingjiang fox base to train them.


"The base released 13 foxes after training them in 2005. The rat populations in areas where the foxes make their homes are much smaller than in other areas. We plan to train and free 200 foxes into the wild every year," Shayila said.


Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region's department of animal husbandry has also been relying on eagles, and wolves to help solve the rat problem.


The local army has set up 50 perches for eagles. An eagle can eat about 10 rats a day on average.


The population of plains rats in Qinghe County has long been a problem, but started growing in June last year. In response, the local government organized a campaign to spread rat poison, but it had only a minor effect.


Efforts have been made to improve the kind of rat poison used so that it will not harm predators that eat the pests, said Xu Guangqin, an official in charge or ridding the Altai region of pests.


Many of the rats are Lagurus luteus, which are known for their large bodies. An adult female can give birth to three to 12 rats per litter.


The pests eat grass roots and dig holes in the grassland. Local people fear the damages wrought by the rats, which not only destroy the grassland, but also spread diseases.


(China Daily May 16, 2007)

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