On the hunt with Jakarta’s rodent eradication movement
JAKARTA - Welcome to the Rat Eradication Movement, a fledgling city program to rid the Indonesian capital of its rodent problem. It’s the idea of deputy governor Djarot Saiful Hidayat, who has offered the public a bounty of 20,000 rupiahs (£1.20) for each live rat – a generous incentive in a country where 40% of the population live on less than $2 a day.
Collecting the rats alive stops people claiming rewards for dead rodents found in the street, and allows officials to ensure none have been poisoned or shot, which they fear could be dangerous to the public. Jakarta recorded 40 cases last year of Leptospirosis – a bacterial infection from rat urine which can be deadly to humans – with the situation made worse by the city’s frequent floods. While rodent populations are highest near markets and their ready supply of waste food, they can be seen almost anywhere in the city. Rats have been spotted in courthouses and government offices, exclusive apartment blocks and expensive restaurants. Wander the streets at 3am and rats can be seen scurrying in and out of drains. They don’t seem too scared of people. The rats gnaw through plastic drainage pipes and electrical wires. It is both a fire hazard and an expensive problem to fix as a broken pipe or chewed through wire could be anywhere – outside, inside or under – that a rat can get. Funding for the program currently comes from Djarot’s own budget, and full operation will not start until after city elections in February. He is standing on a ticket with Jakarta governor Basuki ‘Ahok’ Tjahaja Purnama, who was last week named as a suspect in a blasphemy investigation.
A similar pilot evening two weeks ago in the sub-district of Kemayoran yielded 200 live rats. Djarot, who was there to supervise the operation and distribute money to the moonlighting cleaners and ojek motorcycle-taxi drivers who caught the rats, said the city’s rodent population had until now been “uncontrollable”. Ojek driver Sutikno earned 100,000 rupiah after catching five rats with fishing nets and traps. “It’s good money. I’ll do it again,” he said. Some, though, worry the program could backfire in a phenomenon economists call the Cobra Effect, where cash rewards lead to unintended consequences.