Published: Friday 15 July 2005

-- Never since the times of the Pied Piper of Hamelin were rats so dangerous. Only this time the menace is far greater. Thousands of hectares of China's major rice and cotton belt in Hunan province have been invaded by rats. The massive influx was caused by the rising water level in the Dongting freshwater lake, the country's second largest. This is China's worst rat crisis in a decade.

"A great number of field rats which lived on the islets of Dongting Lake migrated to the farmland due to the rising water level...The rats live on the roots and stems of grasses and crops and rice seedlings are delicacies for them," says Wang Yong, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The township's vegetation protection station claims about 300 to 500 rats inhabit each mu (0.067 hectare) of farmland; the number may exceed 1,000 in some fields. Reports from Chapanzhou township said about 1,333 hectares (ha) farmland was invaded. Yuanjiang city committee said 4,333 ha was ravaged. Experts warn that when the water recedes, the massive migration of rats back to the islets may also be dangerous. A fear of epidemic is rife.

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