BY JAMES PALMER FOREIGN POLICY

Along an 18-mile strip of land between the Canadian province of Alberta and its neighbor Saskatchewan, the rat patrol keeps guard. An eight-person team, armed with poison and shotguns, hunts daily for any sign of the rodent invaders.

The Alberta rat patrol checks more than 3,000 farms a year, but it rarely sees an actual rat. Alberta has 4.3 million people, 255,000 square miles, and no rats—bar the stray handful that make it into the killing zone each year.

1950’s poster commissioned by the Government of Alberta to drive public support for a War on Rats. (Photo: Provincial Archives of Alberta)

Ever since 1950, a sternly enforced program of exclusion and extermination has kept the province rat-free. Nowhere else in the world comes close; the only other rat-free areas are isolated islands such as the remote British territory of South Georgia.

Across the world every year, mice and rats are estimated to cause nearly $20 billion in damage and wipe out as much as a fifth of the world’s food supply. They’re not just enthusiastic gnawers.

They’re also prolific urinators, and rat pee frequently contaminates goods. Rats are thought to have spread the Black Death in the Middle Ages, as they do other viruses today.

Rats arrived in Canada in the 18th century, but geographical isolation kept the invaders from reaching Alberta for a solid two centuries, until the first signs of the rodents started to appear along the border with Saskatchewan after the end of World War II. That’s when Alberta’s anti-rat agenda was born.

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