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How rats take advantage of human failure

Rats are grosser than we thought, but it’s not their fault.

Street rats are one of the most universally despised creatures on the planet. Thinking about them makes many people’s skin crawl, and subway riders scream just being in their presence.

Those feelings aren’t totally unreasonable, though — rats are a really big problem. It’s estimated that they cause $19 billion of damage in the US every year, and they can carry some dangerous diseases. But what if our rat problems aren’t really their fault?

I walked around New York City’s Chinatown with rodentologist Bobby Corrigan, who showed me how human behavior enables rats to succeed.

Rodentologist Bobby Corrigan.

Bobby says rats couldn’t proliferate if it weren’t for our bad behavior. Improper trash disposal, not maintaining our infrastructure, and not taking preventive measures are just a few ways that we allow these rodents to overrun our cities.

There are lots of things we can do to prevent the spread of rats, and New York City recently allocated $32 million to the fight. But Bobby says there is one thing that all humans can do to pitch in: “Be a smart mammal. Whatever you do with your trash, ask yourself: Can the rats get to it?”

Watch the video above to see why Bobby thinks rats will outlive humans. You can find this video and all of Vox’s videos on YouTube. Subscribe for more episodes.