Experts estimate that there are two rats for every person in Paris and most of them, it seems, have taken up residence in one of the city’s favourite tourist spots – the Tuileries gardens outside the Louvre museum.
The gardens have become infested by the furry vermin which can often be seen scampering across the grass or along hedgerows in full daylight, just yards from picnicking or sunbathing tourists and locals.
Traore Massamba, who works in maintenance in the Tuileries gardens, says he sees around ten or fifteen rats every day.
“There are a lot of people who come here to have a picnic and they leave their leftovers, so I think it attracts them.”
For visitors to the gardens, who come to enjoy the open spaces and picturesque surroundings in one of the few oases of tranquility in the bustling French capital, the sight of the increasingly bold rodents can be a shock.
“Now that we’ve seen one, it disgusts us,” declared 19-year-old student Alexandre, as she enjoyed the gardens with her friend Ken.
Ken, 22, is more sanguine. “We’re not far from the banks of the river. It’s warm. They come for food,” he said, a bowl of rice in one hand.
“As long as they don’t come up to me, it doesn’t bother me,” he added.
Despite efforts by city and Louvre museum officials to keep the gardens clean, mounting rubbish left behind by its many visitors is a serious problem, particularly in the summer months.
“There’s so much rubbish, it’s quite dirty. There are cigarette stubs everywhere and leftover food,” said Ariane Dalle, an artistic director who works nearby and regularly has her lunch in the gardens.
“The problem is that people don’t have respect for the environment,” she said, pointing to the rubbish littering the grass despite numerous nearby bins.
Reynald Baudet, a local pest control specialist, agrees that rubbish, particularly leftover food, is behind the gardens’ rodent problem.
“Rats are not stupid,” he says. “They come to eat what’s left on the lawns or in hidden corners, which is often where the rats are hiding.”
Paris’s resurgent rat population
The Museum tries to combat the rodent problem with regular pest control operations, which are stepped up in the summer months.
“Every two months, the gardens undergo a pest control process and in summer that happens each month,” Louvre spokeswoman Elise Guillou said.
“When the proliferation is at its worst, as it is at the moment, the (pest control) firm is immediately alerted by the museum in order to react as quickly as possible.”
The city authorities carried out their own annual pest control exercise between April 14 and June 13.
But despite their efforts, the rats remain a common sight.
According to Frédéric Devanlay, of pest control firm Avipur, Paris has seen a resurgence in the rat population over the past eight years.
“They are used to people and are coming ever more into contact with humans,” Devanlay said.
In addition to the nuisance they cause, rats also pose a serious threat to human health.
Weil’s disease, which can be fatal, is transmitted through skin contact with rat urine.
And Devanlay warned that they were increasingly developing resistance to the chemicals used in pest control.
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