Pro-Beijing lawmaker Ann Chiang has proposed forming squads of feral cats to catch mice in order to address Hong Kong’s rodent infestation problem.

She raised the suggestion at the Legislative Council on Wednesday, saying that the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department mostly euthanises feral cats that are unclaimed or not immediately adopted.

Cat mice mouse rat rodent
File photo: Yintan via Wikimedia Commons.

Similar initiatives have been put into place by local governments in New York City and Chicago.

Rodent infestation

Chiang cited government statistics saying that the rate of rodent infestation in Hong Kong has been increasing for several years, especially in Sham Shui Po and Mong Kok. The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) estimates the number of rats in different districts by measuring the number of baits which have been consumed.

She said that “community cat rodent control squads” can first be tested in certain areas where infestation is serious. Cats could also be raised in wet markets.

Presenting a photograph of rodents on the street taken by local residents, she told Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man that current FEHD methods were ineffective. “No matter how much rat poison, rat glue or rat cages you put down, it doesn’t work,” she said.

“Look – during the night, all these rats are having a party.”

Ann Chiang Lai-wan rodent rats infestation
Ann Chiang. Photo: LegCo screenshot.

Ko replied that the government would consider the suggestion after speaking to stakeholders, but needed to take into account several factors.

“Raising cats in public wet markets would present a hygiene risk,” he said. “Cats can spread infectious diseases between human and animals through their excrement… the excrement can also pollute the environment, causing food safety problems.”

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“We also cannot guarantee that all cats will receive suitable treatment, such as immunity shots and de-worming,” he said.

He added that cats could also mistakenly consume poisonous bait meant for rodents and trigger rodent traps.

Chiang first made the suggestion of training feral cats to catch rats at a legislative discussion on rodent control in April. She said she has been exchanging views with American NGO Tree House Humane Society on her suggestion since.

food market
Wet market in Hong Kong. File photo: HKFP/Catherine Lai.

Raising another possible cause of the rodent problem, pro-democracy legislator Lau Siu-lai said that the FEHD has decreased funding to cleaning operations and subcontractors in recent years – meaning that fewer cleaners are on duty during nighttime, when trash piles up on the streets.

Ko replied that the department has strict guidelines for its subcontractors’ performance.

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.