As rats run rampant in New York City, officials have attempted—and failed—to control their booming population. They’ve tried poison, trapping, suffocation and sterilization. Now, Mayor Eric Adams has announced the latest attempt to battle the perennial rodent problem: appointing New York City’s first “rat czar.”
“Everyone tried,” Adams said at a press conference last week, reports Bobby Caina Calvan for the Associated Press. “We needed someone that was going to put all the pieces together and all the players together to coordinate this entire symphony of fighters. We needed a maestro.”
Cue “Czar” Kathleen Corradi, who previously worked for the city’s education department and led rat mitigation efforts in public schools. Corradi will coordinate across different city agencies, “improving the quality of life of New Yorkers,” Adams said at the conference.
“Rats are a symptom of systemic issues, including sanitation, health, housing and economic justice,” Corradi says in a statement. “As the first director of rodent mitigation, I’m excited to bring a science- and systems-based approach to fight rats. New York may be famous for the Pizza Rat, but rats, and the conditions that help them thrive, will no longer be tolerated—no more dirty curbs, unmanaged spaces or brazen burrowing.”
The brown rat—also called the Norway rat, common rat, street rat or sewer rat—likely arrived in New York City sometime around the Revolutionary War. The animals are native to northern China, but they began spreading across the world in the 18th century because of international trade. Today, the animals are found on all continents except Antarctica. Once forest creatures, they now prefer to live close to humans, foraging a wide range of items, including food waste.
Rats are highly intelligent and—despite their reputation for eating trash and living in sewers—relatively clean creatures, grooming even more frequently than cats, veterinarian Jennifer Graham told Tufts Now’s Genevieve Rajewski in 2020. But the rodents can spread a variety of human diseases, including bubonic plague, schistosomiasis, murine typhus, tularemia and leptospirosis. The animals can breed incredibly quickly, reaching sexual maturity at just three to four months old. Females birth about six litters of eight young on average per year. And their cleverness means they can avoid traps.
The prolific rodents have become almost synonymous with life in the city, with New Yorkers regaling horror stories of rats crawling out of toilets, skittering over feet on the subway or falling from the ceiling. From 1950 to 2014, the city’s rat population exploded by an estimated 800 percent. Then, from 2021 to 2022, rat sightings doubled, rising from 30,000 to 60,000.
Some scientists say the city’s rat control attempts should focus less on how to kill the animals and more on holistic strategies that address the issue at its core. “Rats intersect with other aspects of urban planning in the city—waste management, green spaces, transit, housing,” Kaylee Byers, a senior scientist at the Pacific Institute for Pathogens, Pandemics and Society, tells NPR’s Anil Oza, Rebecca Ramirez, Liz Metzger and Regina G. Barber, adding that surveillance programs could help understand rat behavior and population changes.
“We need to not just be thinking about, ‘how do we eradicate rats?’” she tells NPR. “We’ve been doing that for thousands of years—catch, kill, repeat—and it’s not working.”
Corradi will be tasked with finding “innovative ways to cut off rats’ food sources” and using “new technologies to detect and exterminate rat populations,” per the statement.
The original rat czar job posting called for someone with a “swashbuckling attitude, crafty humor and general aura of badassery” as well as a “virulent vehemence for vermin.”
“There’s a new sheriff in town,” Corradi said at the conference. “And with your help, we’ll send those rats packing.”