Desert rats invade Aussie town

Wednesday 13th Apr 2011 by theWeather

To paraphrase a well known adventurer "Rats! Why did it have to be rats?" Alice Springs is famous mainly for being in the centre of Australia, which is close to Uluru Rock and a long way from anywhere else. The town's residents are used to visitations from tourists, kangaroos and the more than occasional film crew. But at the moment they are they experiencing a far less welcome influx of visitors. Rats.

Some Australian desert regions have experienced several seasons of higher than average rainfall over the last few years. This combined with the widespread flooding that parts of Australia has recently suffered has caused the native rats to look wander further afield than normal, and it seems that some have taken a shine to the desert town. The long-haired rat -Rattus villosissimus- normally lives in the Barkly Tableland of the Northern Territory and in western Queensland. But now it has been spotted in Alice Springs for the first time in 25 years.

"Some of them get up to about 30cm long - fair lump of a rat. They will run around and hide under a little bit of shrub there, and you can get pretty close to them," Mr Giles, a stockman on the Northern Territory's Lake Nash Station, told Australian reporters. "I nearly caught one the other day."

Peter McDonald, acting scientist with Northern Territory Biodiversity Conservation, said the phenomenon was a huge event which he attributed to a run of consecutive good, high rainfall seasons. Unfortunately for locals this particular rat's ability to produce twevle babies every three weeks gives it the highest reproductive potential of any rodent in Australia."It is unusual in the rodent world but Rattus villosissimus are unique in that way and they are pretty famous for their eruptions," McDonald added.

Alice Springs generally has no rats at all because of its arid climate, which has made the present event visitation even more noticeable. However for those anxious about a plague of rats, Mr. McDonald has some welcome news pointing out that they were unlikely to stay put in the area. "It's not really ideal for them," he said. "The chances are they are just moving through and they won't set up camp or be too much of a nuisance." I suspect many local fingers will be crossed, hoping he is right.