Whether or not you smell them, their presence remains ubiquitous.Think and you will find them, not one but many – here, there and everywhere. Having followed humans to just about every corner of the globe, these creatures have demonstrated their incredible propensity for travel. Rats are as much comfortable on moving ships as in running trains.They may have been cause for grounding flights but are unlikely to miss their big ticket travel on board the space station!
Human-rodent co-existence has indeed been enigmatic. There are rats that are killed and there are lab-rats that are admired. There are rats that are eaten and there are rats that are considered sacred. There are rats that are chased away and there are rats that accompany the gods. Abhorred and adored in equal measures, rats have seemingly been victims of man’s changing priorities and opportunistic misadventure.
Isn’t it a strange paradox that these lowly creatures have been part of our collective psyche as Mickey Mouse, Tom and Jerry and Stuart Little?
Chemical and biological atrocities notwithstanding, rodents have spurned all acts of violence against them. If a global census was ever to be conducted, rodents would easily outnumber humans by a factor of between 4 or 6, if not more. Ironically, all attempts at getting rid of them have helped their numbers to swell. Despite many localities across the world vying for a ‘rodent-free’ tag, rats have nonetheless remained part of our collective co-existence.
Rats may have remained small in size but their stature has been taller on the evolutionary time scale, having arrived on this planet some 50 million years ahead of humans and other large mammals. No wonder, a four-month old rat had the audacity to question the age of a baby elephant. ‘I am four-months old,’ replied the baby elephant. Not to be taken aback, the rat was quick to retort, ‘ I am your age but have been sick for a while.’
Not to be read lightly, a day will come when rats will outgrow their size and take over the earth. If rat menace is any indication, rat takeover has already begun. Isn’t it? Humans may have been the cause for extinction of many species but are quite unlikely to impact the existence and onward evolution of rats. Palaeobiologist Jan Zalasiewicz contends that one day rats albeit giant rats will become the dominant species on the earth.
There is no point racing with the rats because in a rat race the one who wins can only be a ‘rat’.
(Dr. Sudhirendar Sharma is the Director of Ecological Foundation, New Delhi)