Rats are a big deal in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Not only do they pass on diseases to people and domestic animals but they also pose a serious threat to our native fauna, which is vulnerable to these exceedingly tenacious vermin. For example, in 1959 rats invaded the tiny island of Ruapuke/Maria Island in the Hauraki Gulf (part of the Noises Islands). The rats made short work of the local population of birds, killing nearly 1,000 storm petrels.

Ref: Auckland Weekly News, stormy petrel, Moko Hinau Island, 1937, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19371006-44-8
Quick action was taken and with the aid of a Wildlife Service grant of £5 and the efforts of a Forest and Bird Protection Society group led by A. McDonald from Waiheke Island, the rat population was decimated. The island was surveyed the following year to check for signs of rats but none were found. A program of surveys and poisoning continued for a number of years until 1964 when the rat population was officially declared eradicated. Ruapuke Island along with David Rocks Island were among the first in Aotearoa to have rats permanently eradicated from their shores.

Rats continue to be a nuisance, only last year, a rat weighing a staggering 900g was caught in a factory in Auckland! You have been warned, remember to tidy away and store your rubbish properly!

Below is a selection of rat related images from the heritage collections at Auckland Libraries - don't worry these photos won't bite!

There's a rat in my kitchen .. what am I going to do?

Ref: Auckland City Council, overflowing rubbish bin with rats, Auckland, c. 1959-1960, Auckland Libraries, 580-4031
Call the extermination crew of course!

Ref: Auckland Weekly News, Auckland City Council waterfront rat catcher, Auckland, 1912, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19120222-16-1
Ref: Auckland Weekly News, Mr Neil and his rat catcher dogs, Auckland, 1921, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19210811-41-7
Ref: Auckland Weekly News, plague precautions on Queen Street wharf, Auckland, 1900, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19000427-5-1
On a more serious note, rats posed a serious problem for soldiers during the First World War, who were already dealing with the horrific conditions of living in the trenches. The trenches across all of the fronts, provided the ideal environment for rats and they thrived, becoming bolder and fatter as time passed. Unsurprisingly, shooting rats quickly became a common pastime for soldiers. Once bullets were banned in order to save ammunition, the soldiers had to resort to using bayonets to dispose of the vermin.

Ref: Auckland Weekly News, a French Army rat catcher with his haul, no location, 1916 Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19160413-48-4
Ref: Auckland Weekly News, NZer shooting rats in the trenches, no location, 1917, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19170524-34-6
Want to find out more about rats?
  • The library has a whole host of rat related resources for you to sink your teeth into (well not literally, please!) - browse through fiction, picture books and books on extermination.
  • Not all rats are a nuisance though. The kiore, the native Māori or Pacific rat was reportedly fastidiously clean. It lived in the forests and was not a scavenger unlike the European Norway and ship/black rats. It was originally thought to have become extinct in the 1920s but is now known to have survived in a number of different locations. The kiore was an important protein source for Māori and when preserved in fat (called hauhua), it was considered to be a much prized delicacy. Find out about the kiore using library resources, the Te Ara website and Te Papa website.
  • To celebrate 50 years of rat eradication, the University of Auckland is presenting a symposium on 10th September 2014, yes really a whole day of talking about rats!

Author: Natasha Barrett (NB)