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It's dark and I'm parked in an alley near a lopsided compost bin. I have a notepad, binoculars and a lukewarm cup of coffee—everything needed for a successful stakeout. I am waiting for them.
They appear approximately one hour before dawn, skittering from dumpster to dumpster along old paths they have worn down with time. I am trying to track their movements, to understand how far they go and how often. But it's clear to me that the traditional detective approach isn't going to work. There are too many and they move in places where I can't follow. I'll have to track them a different way—I'm going to need some rat DNA.
Trip - City - World - Odds - Rats
Take a trip to a city almost anywhere in the world and odds are that you will find rats. Rats are infamous for traveling with us across the globe and yet, until recently, there was very little information on how rats move within cities.
As someone who has trapped more than 700 rats, I can tell you that this lack of information is partly because rats are notoriously difficult to study. For other wildlife species, you can track movement by trapping an animal, tagging it with something like a numbered ear tag, recapturing that animal later on and then measuring the distance between traps. But rats are wary of traps, and very few rats will re-enter them more than once.
Issues - Trappability - Researchers - GPS - Technologies
To get around issues of trappability, researchers can use GPS technologies. This approach still involves wrangling rats to affix GPS tags, but advances in GPS technologies allow for data to be transmitted to the researcher remotely without having to catch the animal again. In fact, miniaturization of tags has allowed us to attach GPS tags to rats. But we've learned that GPS tags are tricky to use with urban rats because they...
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