Rats have become more of a problem in tourist areas, with “problematic” garbage collection likely to blame, according to leading pest control experts.
Arnold Sciberras, a professional pest control consultant, told Times of Malta that he is receiving as many as 15 reports each day of rats in the Sliema and St Julian’s area, that is, roughly double the amount recorded in most previous years.
Sciberras said that the numbers are still lower than some four or five years ago, when record numbers of rats were spotted. In 2017, Sciberras had warned of an escalation of rats along the Sliema coastline.
Numbers had dipped following stricter enforcement preventing kiosks from storing food and waste outdoors. However, Sciberras said that poor waste management and flawed sanitation infrastructure have seen numbers rise once again, especially in crowded hotspots.
The population of rats in less populated areas such as Magħtab, Mellieħa and even Comino is also thought to have increased, according to Sciberras, although they are reported less frequently.
Comtec general manager Joanie Mifsud said workers have responded to a “slight increase” in calls for help in Sliema, St Julian’s, Buġibba and Qawra in recent weeks.
According to Mifsud, tourist hotspots tend to experience more rat infestations because of the increased waste and litter in the areas, especially as tourist numbers spike.
However, this is exacerbated by “problematic” garbage collection schedules, which result in refuse bags lying in the searing heat for hours on end.
“If a person goes to work in the morning and doesn’t return until after waste collection time, they are likely to take their garbage bags out in the morning and leave them there all day. This is different to cases where garbage collection takes place at some time in the morning, so bags would only have spent a short time outside.
“The odours are very attractive to rodents, especially when it comes to organic waste,” she said.
Mifsud also pointed to other issues possibly causing rats to be more visible on the streets, saying that ongoing construction and the recent heatwave are likely to have also played some part.
According to Mifsud, construction exposes drains and disturbs rodents’ environment, making it more likely for them to emerge into the streets.
Meanwhile, she argued that the high temperatures over the past few weeks are likely to have resulted in their usual water sources drying up, encouraging rats to venture further out into the streets in search of water.
However, Mifsud said, the increase in rats is not as large as social media would suggest.
Social media has been flooded with photos and videos of rats feasting on scraps in tourist hotspots such as Sliema, St Julian’s, Buġibba and Qawra in recent weeks.
Some of this footage is misleading, such as a recent widely-shared Facebook video of a large rodent in Sliema which attracted horror and disgust in equal measure. The video, believed to have been shot in Italy, has been shared around the world since at least early 2019, often claiming to be depicting cities in France, Turkey, and the US, among others.
Other social media posts show genuine instances of rodents on the loose.
Glenn Camilleri shared an image of a rat on the pavement at Qui-si-Sana, warning of the “rise of the pests” while Sandra Maresca said rats were “roaming the street at night” in Sliema.
Mifsud said that the ease at which people share this footage on social media may lead people to believe that the problem is more severe than it actually is.
“There has been a slight increase in the number of rats and rodents compared to previous years but social media makes this far more visible,” she said.
Efforts to clamp down on refuse bags strewn in the street have so far proven unsuccessful, with Sliema mayor John Pillow recently beginning a ‘name-and-shame’ campaign to crack down on people leaving rubbish in the streets.