The world’s first public relations campaign to persuade people that rats have feelings too, and they should learn to love them, has been launched in Paris, where city authorities are waging war to exterminate the four-million strong rodent population.
“Stop the massacre of rats,” is the slogan on posters on the walls of dozens of metro stations, which show pictures of cute rats and declare that rodents “are sensitive individuals” which can “feel emotions.”
The campaign was launched by Paris Animaux Zoopolis, an animal rights group that aims to defend all animals regardless of whether humans like them or not.
The group’s secretary Philippe Reigné said he was not aware of any other major campaigns to laud the merits of the much-maligned rodent and that the Paris one may be a world first.
“It is a political message which targets the Paris city hall, the prefecture of police, and the exterminators (of rats),” he said.
“Rats should not be seen as synonymous with filth,” he said, arguing that Paris authorities are as motivated by the damage rats cause to the image of the world’s most visited city as they are about hygiene issues.
Moreover, he said, they help reduce rubbish by eating around seven kilos of rubbish over their lifespan, which is around a year.
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“It is hypocritical to say 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 Paris rat population is estimated to outnumber by a factor of two to one the total number of human inhabitants, which is 2.2 million (while the total population of the Paris agglomeration is around 12 million).
The more visible presence of rats over the past couple of years – which has led to shock headlines across the world – is due to flooding and to major infrastructure works that forced many rats to leave their usual haunts and run around streets and parks.
The infestation first came to public attention in late 2016 amid an outcry from Parisians that they could no longer frequent several city parks due to marauding rodents.
The city hall reacted by declaring war on the pests, closing off a string of parks and gardens and laying a host of “environmentally friendly” traps and poisons as well as blocking off sewer entrances.
This summer city authorities said a total of 4,950 anti-rat operations had taken place between January 2018 and July 2018 compared to 1,700 the previous year. This saw 200 parks and 600 buildings treated against rats.