Rats! (or the curious lack thereof in Alberta, Canada)

We got the following note from a reader named Cindy Karpiak:

I want you guys to research why Alberta (Canada) spends hundreds of thousands of dollars every year to be christened a "rat-free province". There's numerous websites addressing the issue, and the fact that it is illegal to own rats even as pets in Alberta. I don't get all the fuss. ... We're looking at moving back to Alberta and wondering just how easy it will be to smuggle [our pet rats] in, or is the air treated so that they die on contact with Alberta air, perhaps there are there rat cops waiting for me at the border?

Indeed there are numerous websites on Alberta's longstanding aversion to rats (that's a mid-century Albertan propaganda poster pictured above), and what we could glean from the best of them is after the jump. (Apparently, it all goes back to the Black Plague.) We get the feeling, however, that Cindy already knows all of it, and what she wants is for us to start the Great Alberta Rat Revolution. No can do, but allow us three small recommendations:

1. Buy a degu. For now, at least, these rat-like creatures are still legal in Alberta. (You could apply for a rat permit instead, but you'd have to open your own zoo or research center to qualify.)

2. Read a novel. The Dominion of Wylie McFadden revolves around one man's quest to smuggle his favorite rodents into Alberta (take notes!)

3. Move to India. The Jain temple at Deshnok devoted to the full-time worship of Rattus rattus; like this Crazy Rat Man's house, it's home to thousand-strong hordes of the little guys.

Here's what the Alberta government has to say for itself:

Norway rats were first discovered on a farm near Alsask on the eastern border of Alberta during the summer of 1950. The discovery was made by field crews from Alberta Department of Health, engaged in studies of sylvatic plague, a disease of Richardson's ground squirrel. Although they were aware of the economic destruction caused by rats, provincial authorities were initially concerned that rats might spread plague throughout Alberta. Consequently, the Alberta government decided to halt or at least slow the spread of rats to the west. In 1950, responsibility for rat control was transferred from Alberta Department of Health to the Department of Agriculture. ...

Most people in Alberta had had no contact with rats and did not know what rats looked like or how to control them. Consequently, the government's initial response was to educate the public and obtain support from local governments and residents.

Preserved rat specimens were distributed to Alberta Agriculture offices to aid in the identification of rats in the 1950s. In 1951, five provincial employees whose primary responsibility was weed inspection, provided training and assistance to municipal pest control inspectors. Personnel from Saskatchewan Department of Health, familiar with rats and rat control, also assisted with training. Conferences on rat control were held in six towns in eastern Alberta and 2,000 posters and 1,500 mimeographed pamphlets, Rat Control In Alberta, 1951, were distributed to elevators, railway stations, schools, post offices and private citizens.

Rat Control In Alberta, 1951 advocated destruction of rats, elimination of rat harborages and food supplies, and rat-proofing of buildings principles which are still valid and basic for rat control today. Recommended toxicants were red squill, antu, barium carbonate, zinc phosphide, 1080, thallium sulfate, arsenic, strychnine alkaloid and warfarin. Warfarin, the first anticoagulant rodent poison, was still a new and relatively untried toxicant in 1951.

Warfarin was developed in Wisconsin, where finely-ground corn was the recommended bait substrate. However, corn was not normally available to rats in Alberta and bait acceptance was poor. A series of field trials during 1953 to 1955 showed that coarsely-rolled oats gave satisfactory results; this bait substrate is still used today. The amount of bait used in the control program increased annually until about 1958 and then leveled off with the yearly requirements varying between 5,000 and 13,000 kg of dry warfarin bait and between 660 and 4,750 litres of water-soluble warfarin.

Public education and information continued. Posters and brochures on rat control were widely distributed, displays were presented at local fairs, picnics and rodeos, and talks were presented to schools, 4-H clubs, agricultural societies, Chambers of Commerce, and to just about anyone who would listen. "Call of the Land," an Alberta Agriculture agricultural news program began broadcasting in 1953 and was used to disseminate information on rat control. Public interest and support for rat control was favorable, particularly from people who had rats. As an example, seven meetings were attended by almost 900 people in the Medicine Hat area during February 1956. However, there was some resistance. One mayor refused to cooperate because he thought the program was a red herring initiated by the ruling political party. Another mayor refused to believe that rats would threaten his town and stated that he would eat any rats within the town limits. He subsequently changed his mind when presented with a bushel of rats from a local abatoir. ...

After 1959, the number of infestations dropped dramatically; numbers vary between 36 and 216 per year (Figure 3). Surprisingly, overland transportation of rats has not been a major problem, with no more than eight infestations reported in any one year. Most infestations within the interior of Alberta consist of a single rat transported by truck or rail.

A few white rats have been brought in by pet stores, biology teachers, and well-meaning individuals who did not know that it was unlawful to have rats in Alberta. The white rat or laboratory rat is a domesticated Norway rat. If white rats escaped captivity or were turned loose, they could multiply and spread throughout Alberta just like the wild Norway rat. Consequently, white rats can only be kept by zoos, universities and colleges, and recognized research institutions in Alberta. Private citizens may not keep white rats, hooded rats or any of the strains of domesticated Norway rats.

Perhaps the greatest "problem" is that most residents of Alberta still cannot identify rats and rat signs. Hundreds of suspected infestations are reported each year by concerned citizens, but most turn out to be muskrats, pocket gophers, ground squirrels, bushy-tailed wood rats or mice.

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15 Heartwarming Facts About Mister Rogers
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Getty Images

Fred Rogers—who was born in Latrobe, Pennsylvania on March 20, 1928—remains an icon of kindness for the ages. An innovator of children’s television, his salt-of-the-earth demeanor and genuinely gentle nature taught a generation of kids the value of kindness. In celebration of what would have been his 90th birthday, here are 15 things you might not have known about everyone’s favorite “neighbor.”


According to Benjamin Wagner, who directed the 2010 documentary Mister Rogers & Me—and was, in fact, Rogers’s neighbor on Nantucket—Rogers was overweight and shy as a child, and often taunted by his classmates when he walked home from school. “I used to cry to myself when I was alone,” Rogers said. “And I would cry through my fingers and make up songs on the piano.” It was this experience that led Rogers to want to look below the surface of everyone he met to what he called the “essential invisible” within them.


Rogers was an ordained minister and, as such, a man of tremendous faith who preached tolerance wherever he went. When Amy Melder, a six-year-old Christian viewer, sent Rogers a drawing she made for him with a letter that promised “he was going to heaven,” Rogers wrote back to his young fan:

“You told me that you have accepted Jesus as your Savior. It means a lot to me to know that. And, I appreciated the scripture verse that you sent. I am an ordained Presbyterian minister, and I want you to know that Jesus is important to me, too. I hope that God’s love and peace come through my work on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”


Responding to fan mail was part of Rogers’s very regimented daily routine, which began at 5 a.m. with a prayer and included time for studying, writing, making phone calls, swimming, weighing himself, and responding to every fan who had taken the time to reach out to him.

“He respected the kids who wrote [those letters],” Heather Arnet, an assistant on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2005. “He never thought about throwing out a drawing or letter. They were sacred."

According to Arnet, the fan mail he received wasn’t just a bunch of young kids gushing to their idol. Kids would tell Rogers about a pet or family member who died, or other issues with which they were grappling. “No child ever received a form letter from Mister Rogers," Arnet said, noting that he received between 50 and 100 letters per day.


It wasn’t just kids and their parents who loved Mister Rogers. Koko, the Stanford-educated gorilla who understands 2000 English words and can also converse in American Sign Language, was an avid Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watcher, too. When Rogers visited her, she immediately gave him a hug—and took his shoes off.


Though Rogers began his education in the Ivy League, at Dartmouth, he transferred to Rollins College following his freshman year in order to pursue a degree in music (he graduated Magna cum laude). In addition to being a talented piano player, he was also a wonderful songwriter and wrote all the songs for Mister Rogers' Neighborhood—plus hundreds more.


Rogers’s decision to enter into the television world wasn’t out of a passion for the medium—far from it. "When I first saw children's television, I thought it was perfectly horrible," Rogers told Pittsburgh Magazine. "And I thought there was some way of using this fabulous medium to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen."


A Yale study pitted fans of Sesame Street against Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watchers and found that kids who watched Mister Rogers tended to remember more of the story lines, and had a much higher “tolerance of delay,” meaning they were more patient.


If watching an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood gives you sweater envy, we’ve got bad news: You’d never be able to find his sweaters in a store. All of those comfy-looking cardigans were knitted by Fred’s mom, Nancy. In an interview with the Archive of American Television, Rogers explained how his mother would knit sweaters for all of her loved ones every year as Christmas gifts. “And so until she died, those zippered sweaters I wear on the Neighborhood were all made by my mother,” he explained.


Those brightly colored sweaters were a trademark of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, but the colorblind host might not have always noticed. In a 2003 article, just a few days after his passing, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote that:

Among the forgotten details about Fred Rogers is that he was so colorblind he could not distinguish between tomato soup and pea soup.

He liked both, but at lunch one day 50 years ago, he asked his television partner Josie Carey to taste it for him and tell him which it was.

Why did he need her to do this, Carey asked him. Rogers liked both, so why not just dip in?

"If it's tomato soup, I'll put sugar in it," he told her.


According to Wagner, Rogers’s decision to change into sneakers for each episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was about production, not comfort. “His trademark sneakers were born when he found them to be quieter than his dress shoes as he moved about the set,” wrote Wagner.


Oscar-nominated actor Michael Keaton's first job was as a stagehand on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, manning Picture, Picture, and appearing as Purple Panda.


It's hard to imagine a gentle, soft-spoken, children's education advocate like Rogers sitting down to enjoy a gory, violent zombie movie like Dawn of the Dead, but it actually aligns perfectly with Rogers's brand of thoughtfulness. He checked out the horror flick to show his support for then-up-and-coming filmmaker George Romero, whose first paying job was with everyone's favorite neighbor.

“Fred was the first guy who trusted me enough to hire me to actually shoot film,” Romero said. As a young man just out of college, Romero honed his filmmaking skills making a series of short segments for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, creating a dozen or so titles such as “How Lightbulbs Are Made” and “Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy.” The zombie king, who passed away in 2017, considered the latter his first big production, shot in a working hospital: “I still joke that 'Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy' is the scariest film I’ve ever made. What I really mean is that I was scared sh*tless while I was trying to pull it off.”


In 1969, Rogers—who was relatively unknown at the time—went before the Senate to plead for a $20 million grant for public broadcasting, which had been proposed by President Johnson but was in danger of being sliced in half by Richard Nixon. His passionate plea about how television had the potential to turn kids into productive citizens worked; instead of cutting the budget, funding for public TV increased from $9 million to $22 million.


Years later, Rogers also managed to convince the Supreme Court that using VCRs to record TV shows at home shouldn’t be considered a form of copyright infringement (which was the argument of some in this contentious debate). Rogers argued that recording a program like his allowed working parents to sit down with their children and watch shows as a family. Again, he was convincing.


In 1984, Rogers donated one of his iconic sweaters to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

Tony Karumba, AFP/Getty Images
The World's Last Male Northern White Rhino Has Died, But Could He Still Help Save the Species?
Tony Karumba, AFP/Getty Images
Tony Karumba, AFP/Getty Images

Following age-related complications, Sudan the northern white rhinoceros was euthanized by a team of vets in Kenya at 45 years old, CNN reports. He was one of only three northern white rhinos left on Earth and the last male of his subspecies. For years, Sudan had represented the final hope for the survival of his kind, but now scientists have a back-up plan: Using Sudan's sperm, they may be able to continue his genetic line even after his death.

Northern white rhino numbers from dwindled from 2000 in 1960 to only three in recent years. Those last survivors, Sudan, his daughter Najin, and granddaughter Fatu, lived together at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. Each animal had physical issues making it difficult for them to breed, and now with Sudan gone, a new generation of northern white rhinos looks even less likely.

But there is one way the story of these animals doesn't end in extinction. Before Sudan died, researchers were able to save some of his genetic material, which means it's still possible for him to father offspring. Scientists may either use the sperm to artificially inseminate one of the surviving females (even though they're related) or, due to their age and ailments, fertilize one of their eggs and implant the embryo into a female of a similar subspecies, like the southern white rhino, using in vitro fertilization.

"We must take advantage of the unique situation in which cellular technologies are utilized for conservation of critically endangered species," Jan Stejskal, an official at the Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic where Sudan lived until 2009, told AFP. "It may sound unbelievable, but thanks to the newly developed techniques even Sudan could still have an offspring."

Poaching has been a major contributor to the northern white rhino's decline over the past century. Rhinos are often hunted for their horns, which are believed to have medicinal properties in some Asian cultures. (Other people just view the horn as a sign of wealth and status). Procreating is the biggest issue threatening the northern white rhinoceros at the moment. If such poaching continues, other rhino species in the wild could end up in the same situation.

[h/t CNN]


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