Paris has declared war on its four million rats, even in some places bringing back the guillotine to help exterminate them. But instead the city should embrace its cuddly rodent population, says a major publicity campaign to promote the much-maligned creature.
“Stop the massacre of rats,” is the message on advertising posters on the walls of dozens of the city’s Metro stations, which show soft-focus pictures of rats and state that rodents “are sensitive individuals” which can “feel emotions.”
The campaign was launched on Thursday by Zoopolis, an animal rights group which says it defends all animals regardless of human preferences. It also says its campaign to promote the rights of rats may be a world first.
“Rats should not be seen as synonymous with filth,” Philippe Reigné of Zoopolis told The Local, arguing that Paris authorities are as motivated by the damage rats cause to the image of the city as to hygiene issues.
“They are not aggressive and they flee humans,” and help reduce rubbish by eating around seven kilos of garbage over their lifespan, which is around a year, said Reigné.
“It is hypocritical to say that the campaign to exterminate rats in Paris is a matter of public health,” he said, arguing that there has not been a sudden explosion in the number of rodents in the French capital.
The more visible presence of rats is due to flooding over the past couple of years, and to major infrastructure works, which has forced many rats to leave their usual haunts and run around streets and parks.
Images of them frolicking in the grounds of the Louvre and other tourist spots were carried in media around the world, much to the embarrassment of Paris city hall.
However much the Zoopolis campaign might serve to change the image of the rat in public opinion, it is unlikely to lead Paris authorities to ease their all-out war on rodents.
This summer city hall said a total of 4,950 anti-rat operations had taken place between January 2018 and July 2018 compared to 1,700 last year. This saw 200 parks and 600 buildings treated against rats.
One hundred and forty people have been fined for “compulsively feeding” the rodents, 327 street rubbish bins have been replaced by airtight containers, and covers have been placed on more manholes to try and prevent rats from accessing the streets via the sewers.
And in the Paris suburb of Aubervilliers, which is particularly affected by the rat invasion, authorities have even tried placing mini-guillotines in sewers to try to stem the rodent tide.