The rat scourge is growing in Singapore. Authorities have received more complaints, and pest control companies are reporting more rodent infestations this year.
He combs the ground for rat droppings, tracks and gnaw marks.
"Norway rat droppings have curved ends, roof rat droppings have pointed ends," he says clinically.
These scatological clues are what leads pest controller Nur Muhammad, 32, to the mother lode - a rat burrow. The process can take almost two hours.
One burrow can house up to 30 rats. His team of pest controllers found 16 such burrows in a single hawker centre in the south of Singapore some time this year.
As a project manager from The Pestman, he is trained to eradicate all kinds of creepy pests.
But lately, cases of rodent infestations and sightings have been popping up often on his roster.
"For some reason, I'm getting sent to more jobs about rats. Feels like there's more rats around," he says.
A check with pest control companies here reveals that rodent-related reports have spiked.
Three of them - The Pestman, PestBusters and Alliance Pest Management - say the number of reports has risen between 20 and 30 per cent this year.
Last month, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said it received 2,490 rodent-related feedback in the first nine months of this year, compared with 2,496 for all of last year.
It is a worrying trend.
One can be infected with various rat-transmitted diseases by breathing in dust or eating food that has been contaminated with rodent urine or droppings, he said.
If left unchecked, a pair of male and female rats can be responsible for producing at least 1,300 rats in a year.
In 2012, a foreign worker died from leptospirosis, a bacterial infection spread by rats.
Mr Eugene Surendra, technical director of PestBusters, says: "This year, we are doing more 'flush outs' than before. These are meant for buildings that have established rat populations."
The rodent species here are also difficult to eliminate because of their survivability and resilience.
"I have seen a rat jump over a glue trap... Rats are known for their excellent memory and survival skills. It is not easy for a layman to know how to effectively eradicate them," he says.
For one Toa Payoh resident, Mr K. H. Tan, 44, rats are "an absolute nightmare".
Says the taxi driver in Mandarin: "I have seen so many of them at my void deck recently. I can hear them in the drains and bushes. Very scary, especially when they suddenly run across (the path in front of) you."
His home is spared the infestation as he lives on a high floor. But returning home can be terrifying, says the father of two.
"We have to brisk walk from the car to the lift. I don't want my kids to get bitten."
SO WHY IS THERE A SPIKE?
Entomologist Dr Foo Foong Kuan from Alliance Pest Management, believes it's because of the increase in construction projects here.
"(Construction activity) disturbs the rodents' habitats, causing them to seek shelter in housing estates," she explains.
Another reason could be because our neighbourhood cats are too well fed, says Mr Surendra.
Other reasons given by the pest control companies include poor housekeeping practices and structural defects, which allow rodents to enter homes through the sewers or rubbish chutes.
In 2011 the NEA started an island-wide surveillance programme to monitor the rodent population. Last July, it awarded a $4.2 million contract to reduce the rat population in public areas for up to two years.
As part of its "Rat Attack" programme, the NEA also called for new public tenders to be awarded to 13 areas prone to rodent infestation late last year. This includes areas like Joo Chiat, Jalan Besar and Arab Street.
But Mr Surendra is uncertain that these programmes can completely remove the problem.
"You need total eradication. You can't just kill off eight out of 10 rats because you'll return back to square one after a few months.
"We are probably on the cusp of a population outbreak of rats."
When a rat problem hits home
Drats, I've got a rat in my pad.
Three rats, to be exact. I think.
I've lived in Pasir Ris for nearly two decades and I have never had a rat problem.
I would like to believe it's because my parents, two siblings and I know how to keep the place neat.
But for some reason, we've had three home invasions by roof rats in this year alone. The construction site nearby might have something to do with it.
No matter what the reasons are, these dastardly rats have destroyed my peace.
Like any family, we tie up the trash, we don't leave unwashed dishes in the sink overnight and we keep the kitchen door closed so that no creatures can come in.
We even say "hello" to the garbage collectors every day.
Imagine my shock when on one lovely sunny day earlier this year, I heard my mother shriek.
She had found a dead rat in our covered Ikea dustbin in the kitchen, where we throw our foodstuff. She has always been terrified of rats.
No one knows how it ended up there or how it died, but my parents were quick to chide me because they saw that the food in the bin belonged to yours truly.
"Why didn't you close the bin lid?" they asked.
That was our first ratty encounter. No big deal, it's just one rat after all.
Little did I know that the seeds of turmoil had been planted.
Our second brush with a rat happened in August. I was at work and I found out about it through a WhatsApp group message that my mother sent.
"Thanks for not closing the kitchen door at night, we have welcomed a new pet into the house and it has made a home in the storeroom.
"Your next bowl of soup shall be rat soup if Dad catches it," the message said.
Dad predictably caught it, thanks to his ingenious method of emptying a can of insecticide into the storeroom.
He waited hours for the "gas chamber" to take effect, then spent more time moving everything out of the storeroom to find the rat carcass.
The third encounter happened two weeks ago.
My father noticed another rat scampering around the kitchen. He caught it by baiting it onto a glue trap.
By then, social disorder had set into my once peaceful household.
My parents blamed my siblings and me for attracting the rats into the house. We were embroiled in our own heated debate over who left the kitchen door open.
At no point did we think to hire a pest controller to deal with the issue. Why pay when I've caught every rat so far, boasts my father.
Pest-busting experts recently told me that one rat can produce up to 84 babies in a year.
Since the last encounter, we have not seen any rats in our home.
But who knows how many more lurk in the shadows.
I don't think I can take having a fourth encounter, and I doubt I can go through another round of the blame game. Every night is marked with nagging reminders and accusations about who was responsible for the rodent incursions.
All I know is that the next time I hear so much as a rat squeak, I'm calling in the experts.
This article was first published on Nov 23, 2014.
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