Wild Rats In San Francisco Are Drinking Birth Control Milkshakes Because Two Women In STEM Had A Pest Control Idea

San Francisco has a rat problem and it got worse since the pandemic, but two smart women may have solved it. Mousetraps? Poison pellets? Chemical fumes? No.

The city’s parks and recreation department has been using rat birth control and it’s delicious. ContraPest is a liquid contraceptive that makes rats sterile for one year.

“Which is great because that’s the average lifespan for rats in the wild,” says Tamara Barak Aparton, who works with San Francisco Recreation and Parks. The mixture is being put out in city parks in an effort to reduce the number of rats running around.

Why would rats choose to drink birth control?

“We describe it as a bit of a milkshake. They love the stuff. It’s sweet. It’s got lots of fats in it,” says Nicole Williams, chief strategy officer for the company that makes ContraPest. She says it’s “tasty” for the rats.

There’s a lot of food available on the streets of San Fran, so why would they drink the milkshake in particular? Aparton says the rats will definitely eat it, especially if there are no other delicious food scraps in close proximity. Rats will naturally discover the new food source.

“Rats actually have to consume a very high percentage of their body weight in liquids every day. So it also makes our bait particularly good when there’s a lot of food source around for the rats, because they’ll actually go to the ContraPest,” she explains.

The drink also contains two chemicals that immediately disrupt the rats’ ability to have children, but it doesn’t hurt them.

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Who came up with this?

Williams says ContraPest wasn’t the original goal. Two female scientists started off trying to figure out how to trigger menopause in the rats. This was so other laboratories could use the rats to test drugs that address menopause. The women ended up learning how to reliably make the rats infertile, then realized it could be used as a pest control method.

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How is it being used?

The mixture is put into large plastic boxes that are fully sealed except for a small opening that rats can drink out of.

The ContraPest method was set up in various parks around San Francisco, according to the Parks and Recreation department. They have been using this idea since 2019 and will continue to do. Aparton says the results gained from the birth control milkshakes are actually good.

San Francisco departments are still using other methods such as snap traps and waste management to curb the rat population in the city.

Senestech says ContraPest doesn’t harm the rats or the other animals higher up in the food chain that naturally eat rats.

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