Well, my post detailing a particular real-life problem and asking what could be done about it within the framework of Buddhist ethics certainly provoked a lot of interest. Both in comments on the post itself and in personal emails to me, suggestions have ranged from the “grit your teeth and bare it” solution to the forthright “be damned and get rid of them” approach. In between there were suggestions which might be called ‘creatively impractical’ such as sprinkling cats’ droppings and even snakes’ droppings around. I say ‘creative’ because I would have never thought of anything like this and it might well have some effect, and ‘impractical’ because of the difficulties, not just of getting such stuff, but getting a steady supply of it. Obviously, as soon as the odour wore off the rats would return and I’d have to keep trudging off to the zoo. There were of course the usual Theravadin “pass the buck” suggestions; i.e. drop hints and get devotees or others to do the dirty work for you. Then there was advice such as chant mantras or the Metta Sutta at them or “try to communicate with them” as shamans supposedly do to animals. Thanks very much for those who made such suggestions and I hope you won’t take it too hard when I file them all under the ‘New Age flim-flam” category.
The only advice that seemed to me to be practical, realistic and perhaps effective was “get a cat”. But of course this could be seen as just another version of the “pass the buck” one. In getting a cat my intentions would be partly negative because I would be specifically getting kitty if not to kill the rats then at least to driven away, perhaps not as bad as killing but hardly an act of kindness.
I consulted a rat expert about my problem the other day and this is what he told me. “Rats are very territorial. A family of rats in one location will fiercely resist encroachment of other rats. If you kill them all off another group will soon move in to take their place. In crowded urban areas such as Singapore there are almost always rats, usually in two types of infestations – low-density or high-density. If you keep trapping the young one (those most likely to take the bait in a live trap) you will have a manageable, low-density infestation. This, coupled with an open, uncluttered environment where rats cannot hide or nest and an absence of food, will keep their numbers down”. This sounded like realistic, practical, well-informed advice to me, much more so that the “move somewhere else” suggestion and some of the others. The one drawback to it is my immediate neighbour who has junk all over the place and the downstairs restaurant which despite their efforts to keep their outside eating area clean does provide the rats with easy pickings. Nonetheless, I intend to take the rat expert’s advice and keep up the live trapping. My mantra for the time being will be “Keep on trapping!” This is me with one of those nifty Singaporean humane rat traps.
Of course this and the other suggested solutions are not relevant to the other scenarios I mentioned. What do you do when the kids (or you for that matter) get head lice or worms or when the family dog gets fleas? What do you do when a unique species is threatened with extinction by an invasive species? What, as a Buddhist, do you do?