Barn owls part of R2.5m war on rats

The City of Johannesburg has included barn owls in a R2.5 million plan to fight a rat infestation, the municipality said on Tuesday.

Owl boxes had been placed at four schools in Alexandra, each containing four owls, mayoral committee member for health Nonceba Molwele told reporters.

Another owl box was placed at the Marlboro Gardens Combined school. Barn owls are the rodents' natural predators.

"In recent years rodents have become a challenge in certain areas of Johannesburg such as informal settlements and overcrowded buildings in the inner city," she said.

Jonathan Haw from Eco Solutions said one owl could feed on many rats in a month. Over 83,000 owls had been released into various parts of Gauteng since 1998.

The New Age reported last month that a one month-old baby in Alexandra had to go for reconstructive surgery after rats ate three of her fingers and part of her nose.

Molwele said the municipality had developed a plan to eradicate the problem.

"This strategy focuses on the effectiveness of biological and cultural control factors. The use of chemicals is only as and when needed and within a minimum."

She said 28,400 rats were caught in Alexandra since a rat cage project was piloted in March 2012. It had since been expanded to all seven regions of the municipality.

"The City of Johannesburg is confident that we can beat the rats through our prevention and clean-up operations, but we need the participation and support of all residents to look after their own immediate environment."

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