Rats, mice, pigeons, Asian goats, crows, cockroaches, even foxes, hedgehogs and weasels do not always have good press in our cities. But are these animals, which we call “harmful” really? That is the subject of a conference that the Brussels Environment is holding on Monday 2 May as part of Nature Month. Thomas Jean wants to be at the microphone: the animal videographer behind the La Minute Sauvage capsules on Youtube is therefore dismantling some of the most stubborn clichés about these species.
Thomas Jean, why are we talking about “harmful” animals?
It goes back to agriculture. Originally, this is what we called animals, which caused damage to crops. Or who came in competition with the hunters. Foxes, for example, that feed on pheasants, partridges or quails, but at a rate that nature can absorb. The term therefore has no meaning in the city.
Why do we use it then?
We are, of course, thinking of pigeons that damage architecture. Like rats and foxes, they also pose a health risk. Real, but measured. Even low. That said, if we promote their presence, we will increase our cohabitation. And if one day a pathogenic agent emerges that can be transmitted to humans, these species can pose a risk. This is the most plausible scenario for the coronavirus crisis. coronavirus.
Pigeons, rats and foxes pose a health risk. Real but measured. Even weak.
How would such an agent be transferred?
Most likely it is excrement in housing.
Why are these animals reproducing in Brussels?
There are two factors: First, the destruction of the last wild green areas, such as Josaphat Wasteland. Why? Because it reduces the diversity of species that need these areas for food and nesting. Rats, pigeons, corvids such as crows, ravens, skaters, do not have such needs. They adapt more easily to mineralized environments. This is how we find the fox everywhere on the planet. There are only a maximum of two pairs in the Josaphat wilderness, while there are dozens in the Uccle and Woluwe districts.
And the second factor?
It is the management of organic waste. Rats, corvettes, pigeons, foxes prefer the street to food: they easily find all the food they need there. For them, our bins are the least energy-intensive food sources. In parks and public spaces, the discarded crispy packages eat or end our durums.
This leads to reconsidering the harmful nature of these animals.
Yes, because they play the role of garbage collectors. A rat eats 10% of its weight a day. There are 6 to 7 million of them in Brussels. There’s a lot of leftovers being swallowed! Then they are scavengers, foxes, corvids and rats limit the risk of seeing the development of pathogens, and they therefore clearly relieve the work on the roads, on the terraces, in the streets and in the parks with guinguettes.
What about moles?
Moles represent an aesthetic and practical nuisance, primarily for the maintenance of private gardens, but they nevertheless contribute to the aeration of the soil. However, they are rare in public parks, which resemble monocultures that interest them little, especially since their soil is too compacted. But in my eyes, it is obsolete to maintain a park like a golf course even though it is in decline.
A rat eats 10% of its weight a day. There are 6 to 7 million of them in Brussels. It’s very swallowed!
What remedies are used against “harmful” species?
Short-term solutions For pigeons, there are contraceptive seeds that can quickly bring the stock back to 30% of its pre-treatment level. But in the long run, we do not know the effects on species that feed on pigeons such as foxes, hawks, falcons, weasels … For rats, deratization uses anticoagulant granules, which cause death by internal bleeding. In addition to the suffering of the animals by this cruel but rapid death, the risk is the ingestion of cats and dogs, which die with each campaign.
Do you prefer a different path?
I think we need to rethink our entire management of organic waste. It goes through hard bins like pedestrian pedal devices. We also need to work on mentalities. Throwing an apple seed in a grove is not an organic gesture. Feeding ducks and pigeons old, old bread is not a nice family activity. We must no longer believe that the fox is fragile: the Brussels specimens suffer from obesity. Brussels must stop calling ordinary people as soon as they encounter a rat in a park: they must understand that they have a responsibility in this spread.
Throwing an apple seed is not an organic gesture. Feeding ducks and pigeons with stale bread is not a big family activity.
And cherish the wilderness?
Yes, because these areas are not of interest to pests. And the more they compete with other wildlife, the less they will reproduce. More wilderness means fewer rats, foxes, pigeons.