Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Palm Latitudes

Close-up

March 22, 1992|Gordon Dillow

There are millions of rats in downtown Los Angeles, but Calvin Morris, government rat tracker, is only concerned with the four-footed variety.

"I actually like rats," says Morris, 46, an environmental health specialist for the L. A. County Health Department. "They're incredibly adaptable.

Whatever they have to do to survive, they do." But, he adds, "we can't let them overrun us."

Morris, who has been on the job for 18 months, is conducting a door-to-door seek-and-destroy mission in the downtown area, which in recent years has experienced a marked increase in the Norway, or sewer, rat population. (The smaller tree, or fruit, rat is more common in the suburbs.) When he spots a rat sign, from droppings to oily marks left at the base of a wall by scurrying rodents, Morris alerts the business or property owner. His news is not always welcome.

"A lot of people get insulted when you tell them they have a rat problem," he says. "But most of them eventually get with the program." Morris' program involves "rat suppression"--poison is the customary method--and "rat education," which includes teaching property owners how to effectively seal their doorways and drainage pipes. At least twice a month, Morris makes nighttime rat patrols to see if the suppression efforts are working. Armed only with a flashlight and a clipboard, he prowls the alleys of downtown, peering into drainpipes and dumpsters. Improper garbage disposal is the biggest cause of rat infestations. And the problem is circular: Hotel and restaurant workers are afraid of encountering rats, so instead of walking to the dumpsters, they just toss garbage into an alley, which, of course, draws more rats. According to Morris, there's really nothing to be afraid of: "Rats never attack unless they're cornered." And urban myths about rats as big as Dobermans are simply tall rat tales. "Don't believe all that stuff," Morris says. "The biggest one on record (in Los Angeles) was 20 inches from nose to tail; it weighed about 20 ounces. It's the shock of seeing them that makes people think they're so big." Fortunately, as Morris likes to point out: "We don't have near as many rats as New York."

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|