Super-toxic rat poisons mysteriously seep into our world

Part 1 of 2

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – With the spooky glow of his headlamp illuminating an antenna in his hand, Paul Levesque stalks one of Canada’s last remaining barn owls.

“Are you getting anything?” research team leader Sofi Hindmarch asks over a walkie-talkie.

“I got it!” Levesque responds. Then a few seconds later, dejected, he radios back: “No. I lost the signal.”

Working in darkness, with the quarter-moon obscured by clouds, these two scientists are trying to figure out what an elusive, radio-collared owl is eating along this country road just beyond the suburbs that ring Vancouver. Their mission is to determine whether the decline of Canada’s barn owl is tied, in part, to super-toxic rat poisons.

Scientists know that at least some owls are dying under gruesome circumstances, bleeding to death from stomach hemorrhages in an agonizing and days-long decline. The culprit: An extra-potent class of rat poisons that has flooded the market in recent decades, designed to more effectively kill rats, a food source for the owls.

Scientist Paul Levesque tries to locate a radio-collared barn owl.
Photo by Paul Joseph Brown, www.ecosystemphoto.com

Six of 164 dead barn owls, barred owls and great horned owls in a 2009 western Canada study had rodenticide levels high enough to kill them outright, causing the fatal stomach hemorrhages. Pesticide readings in 15 percent to 30 percent of the others appeared toxic and seem likely to handicap owls in a variety of ways, scientists say.


Rats and poor tenants check out to make room for 2010 Olympic guests?

Tenants of a rat-infested hotel in Downtown Eastside Vancouver are being encouraged by the city to stay, despite an eviction notice from their landlord, reports Doug Ward in the Vancouver Sun. The landlord told tenants they would have to leave by the end of September so pest control could take care of the rats, cockroaches and bedbugs in the hotel. The city says it's illegal and unnecessary for the hotel's low-income residents to leave, because the pests could be taken care of while tenants are there. The city fears the landlord plans to kick all the tenants out so he could renovate the hotel and rent its rooms to clients with higher incomes, potentially visitors to the 2010 Olympic Games. The current tenants could end up homeless if the eviction was successful.

– Emily Linroth