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Florida battles rats the size of cats

RatUS authorities have just begun the final phase of a two-year offensive to eliminate the non-native Gambian pouched rat from the Florida Keys, Reuters reports.

The cat-sized rodent has for the last eight years been breeding in Grassy Key, 60 miles north of Key West, after an exotic pet breeder "allowed the critters to escape". Officials fear they might do a cane toad and spread across Florida, threatening crops and indigenous wildlife.

The US has now banned importation of Gambian pouched rats, amid concerns they may be a vector for monkey-pox, "similar to but milder to humans than smallpox", after the disease was "linked to Gambian rat contact with prairie dogs in the US Midwest".

The Gambian pouched rat weighs in at 6-9lbs (2.7-4 kg), and boasts "large ears, black, beady eyes, hamster-like pouched facial cheeks, sharp teeth and distinctive long, stringy and white-marked tails".

Wildlife officials have now begun to bait 1,000 rat-busting traps with peanut butter, almond extract, anise, and less appetising toxic zinc phosphide, hoping the animals will take a final meal and crawl off into their burrows to die.

Source: The Register
Image: Flickr/l.m
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