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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Almanac/Rat Catcher’s Day

Air Date: Week of July 19, 2002

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This week, we have facts about Rat Catcher's Day. The date stems from Robert Browning's poem "The Pied Piper of Hamelin."

Transcript

TOOMEY: Welcome back to Living on Earth. I’m Diane Toomey.

[FLUTE MUSIC UP AND UNDER: GEORGE STROUTSOS, "THE PEOPLE SHALL LIVE," WINDS OF HONOR, MAKOCHE, 1996]

TOOMEY: "Rats, they fought the dogs and killed the cats, and bit the babies in the cradles, and ate the cheeses out of the vats, and licked the soup from the cook’s own ladles." That was the plight of a medieval German town, described in Robert Browning’s poem, "The Pied Piper of Hamelin."

To save the people from this terrible plague, a colorful stranger lured away all the rats by playing his flute. And the date Browning ascribes to this event, it’s July 22nd, now known as Rat Catcher’s Day.

People and rats have always been locked in a battle for supremacy. The rodents are despised for destroying crops and carrying disease, most notably, the Bubonic Plague. Rats can swim up to half a mile and tread water for three days. They can squeeze through holes as small as a quarter of an inch. And their reproductive rate is truly amazing. A single pair of rats can potentially produce thousands of heirs in a year.

Domestic rats do have their staunch supporters, with owners describing them as intelligent, even affectionate. But cities continue to consider the rats pests. Rat catchers starve them, poison them, and shoot them. But, so far, no method has had the 100% success rate of the Pied Piper and his captivating tune. For this week, that’s the Living on Earth Almanac.

[MUSIC UNDER]

 

 

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