Source: The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Author: Dan Nakaso

The city’s rat hunters were on the job Friday morning, baiting 32 poisonous black boxes along the Ala Wai Canal in the eternal war between humans and rodents that rats appear to be winning once again in Waikiki.

“The rats will never be gone,” Stan Pinho said as he rearmed rat bait boxes secured beneath trash cans along the canal. “All you can do is try to control them because they multiply so fast.”

With the state Health Department now out of the business of pest and vector control because of budget cuts, the job of fighting rats in the heart of Hawaii’s tourism industry lies with the city and private pest control companies, which are enjoying a booming business.

Andrew Nowinski, senior account manager for Kilauea Pest Control, gets calls daily to evict rats from Waikiki hotels, apartments and grounds. He estimates the rat population is growing this summer in part because of Waikiki’s healthy tourism numbers and the lack of state enforcement.

“Definitely they’re getting bolder because they’re unchecked,” Nowinski said.

Since he began chasing rats in Waikiki in 1976, Nowinski estimated he has killed “a couple of thousand” rats using glue boards and oversize rat traps. His rat death toll from poisons is probably 5,000 kills throughout Waikiki, Nowinski said.

Rats are hardly a new problem in Hawaii.

An ill-conceived plan to rid Honolulu’s Chinatown of rats suspected of carrying bubonic plague ended up burning most of Chinatown to the ground in 1900.

More recently, then-Mayor Jeremy Harris was checking reports of rats outside the Honolulu Police Department’s Waikiki substation in 1997 when a rat scampered up his pant leg.

Waikiki resident Keli’i Mahoe walks her 5-year-old Rottweiler, Kuma, three to four times a day and estimated that she sees as many as 20 rats each month running across the sidewalk that lines the makai side of the Ala Wai Canal.

Mahoe moved from Waimanalo to Waikiki 18 months ago. She said Waikiki’s rat population seems to have grown in that time.

“They’re everywhere,” she said. “It’s definitely gotten worse.”

While no one’s taken a rat census in Waikiki, the normally nocturnal rodents are being spotted regularly during daylight hours, which indicates their numbers are growing and they’re in greater need of food, Nowinski said.

Until 2010 the state Health Department regularly responded to pleas from hotels and homeowners about rats in Waikiki and across Oahu, said Gary Gill, deputy director of the state Health Department’s Environmental Health Administration.

“Vector control used to do a systematic program of rats and also mosquito treatment,” Gill said. “That’s all gone. We don’t have the resources anymore, and we don’t have any inspectors to dispatch.”

With state resources dried up, the government’s response to rat eradication in Waikiki and throughout Honolulu lies with three city departments: Parks and Recreation, which responds to rat sightings at city beaches and other city parks; Enterprise Services, which systematically gets rid of rats inside the Honolulu Zoo and hires a private contractor to keep the rat population down in front of the zoo; and Facility Maintenance, which sends out a crew every other Friday to bait the poison boxes along the Ala Wai Canal, city spokeswoman Louise Kim McCoy said.

Asked whether the city has experienced cutbacks similar to the loss of inspectors at the state Health Department that would affect rat eradication, McCoy said, “I wouldn’t say that. Each department has a crew to address that.”

Friday morning a facility maintenance crew comprised of Pinho, Donna Algono and their supervisor, Sean Barboza, inspected each of 32 black plastic boxes that line the makai side of the Ala Wai Canal from Kapahulu Avenue to the McCully Street bridge.

Every box was empty of its poison bait.

“It’s always gone,” Pinho said. “Every time. Those rats will eat anything.”

He’s seen dead, poisoned rats as big as 10 inches long — not including their tail. Live rats have jumped out when Pinho has opened up the poison boxes.

“They’re like monsters,” he said. “They’re real big.”

Virginia visitor Travis Klisiewecz saw a couple of rats in December during his last visit to see his parents in Waikiki. So Friday, on his most recent trip, Klisiewecz said he appreciated the efforts of Barboza and his crew.

“It’s a big city,” he said. “You’re going to see rats.”

State Rep. Tom Brower (D, Waikiki-Ala Moana) has seen his share of rats along the Ala Wai Canal and in beaches, trees and bushes throughout Waikiki.

“I do run into them on a fairly regular basis,” Brower said. “The population may be getting larger. We have people camping out more in public places, and that may attract more rodents.”

Bob Iinuma of Waipio Gentry has seen the rats getting bolder recently whenever he visits his friend in Waikiki.

“By the zoo I’ve seen 15, 20 at one time when they’re looking for food,” Iinuma said. “They’re getting gutsy. They’re getting bolder.”

While the city lost an ally in state health inspectors, the job of trying to control Waikiki’s rat problem goes on among city crews.

“There’s just so many of them,” Pinho said. “But without us they’d just be multiplying like crazy.”

Tags: hawaii, health