The French capital might be known as the City of Light and the romance capital of the world but it is also infamous for its dirty litter-strewn streets and its burgeoning rat population that is now said to top eight million.
On Monday, Town Hall authorities unveiled an ambitious five-point plan, that they vow will turn Paris into the world’s first rat-free city in little over ten years from now.
“We will prove that it is possible to tackle the issue of rats,” Henri Faubier, the Town Hall's street cleaning tsar told press on Tuesday. “As individuals and as a city, that welcomes millions of visitors each year, we can prove that Parisians don't have to share their city with rodents,” he added.
Paris chiefs say they are taking inspiration from the Canadian province of Alberta which claims it has been rat-free for over 50 years.
With rat populations higher around the French capital’s tourist spots, visitors to the city may have to pay to fund the project, named Rat-Lib' out of their own pocket if they are not careful.
As part of the drive fines for litter dropping will be doubled to €60 and tourists will no longer be allowed to eat packed lunches outdoors at the hotspots like the Eiffel Tower from July to September, when the rat population is at its highest. On the spot penalty notices will be issued to those caught flouting the ban. In return The Town Hall will launch its “RatsApp” smartphone app so Parisians and tourists can log sightings of rodents.
“We receive thousands of complaints each year by tourists who have come face to face with rats at places like the Notre-Dame and the Sacré-Cœur. We understand they may not be happy about the new fines and ban on outdoor eating but we don’t want their experience to be ruined by rodents,” said Faubier.
Paris authorities decided enough was enough when they were named and shamed in AnimalPlanet.com’s Top Ten Worst Rat Cities last year.
Up until now however Paris has been one of the most pro-active cities in cracking down on rats.
Parisians urged 'to rat' on dirty neighbours
Each year around spring time the police launch their annual “war on rats” campaign to coincide with the huge migration of rats back to the streets as temperatures rise after winter.
A crack Town Hall unit nicknamed “Le Smash” (or Le Service Municipal d'Actions de Salubrité et d'Hygiène), which is tasked with improving street hygiene, encourages people “to rat” on their neighbours who ignore their instructions.
City authorities evidently take the rat problem seriously enough to issue verbal warnings and €450 fines to anyone who fails to comply with orders.
But designated rat squads have proved to be ineffective in a city where there are said to be four rats for every human and where hundreds of Parisians are affected each year by leptosprirosis – a serious disease with extremely unpleasant symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea.
Air drop 'harmless' rat poison
Under Rat-Lib' the number of street cleaning staff in Paris will be quadrupled to 18,000 and will include specially trained “night squads” who will have the job of exterminating rats while most Parisians are asleep in their beds.
However Stewart Petite, from the umbrella AARRG union (Association of Anti Rat and Rodent Groups) demanded working conditions be improved and vowed his members would not work on Sundays.
“We want Paris to be free from rodents as much as anyone, but at the moment our members are using their bare hands at times to kill dozens of rats each night. It's not good enough. We need proper extermination equipment,” Petite said.
The drive will also include incentives to encourage Parisians to allow their cats out at night. Authorities will pay for 10,000 electronic tags so cat owners will be able to keep tabs on their moggies as they roam the streets.
Perhaps the project's most ambitious plan is to air drop a new type of rat poison onto the streets of Paris on certain designated nights in the summer. The product, which authorities insist is completely harmless to humans, will kill rats instantly.
Special “clean-up” teams will then take to the streets en masse to gather in the dead rodents before commuters head to work in the morning rush hour.
Rat-lib plan has so been well-received on social networks.
“The whole world dreams about Paris. But the rats that are wandering everywhere…It's a fail. Disgusting…”, said one French netizen on Twitter.
— F'z Angie (@LaFifz) December 4, 2013
Beleaguered French President François Hollande has also hailed the project and the vital creation of thousands of new jobs. He has denied reports that a new “rat-tax” would be added onto payroll charges to cover the cost of the project.
“This project shows that Paris is willing to be bold and innovative and move with the times,” he said. “It will be the first city in the world to be rat-free and it will be the envy of capitals around the world.”
London's mayor Boris Johnson dismissed the idea that eight million rats could be driven out of a city, and joked that he would be willing to roll out the red carpet for any Parisian rat exiles.
April Fools’ update!
It’s midday in France, so it’s only fair we own up by now. Did we fool you?
As you may or may not have guessed, the above article contains a few falsities, notably the Ratlib plan itself. Although no doubt city authorities would love Paris to be rat-free, it is unlikely that they will ever see that day. There will be no ban on packed lunches or rat poison air drops and Parisians will probably not be letting their cats out at night, although we thought it was a good idea.
However there is a dedicated rat police unit in Paris and they will be launching their annual war on rats in the coming weeks.
And new Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo did tell The Local how she plans to clear up the city's streets.
Thanks for reading.