The Khayelitsha Rodent Study (KRS) is a joint initiative between iCWild and the Centre for Social Science Research (CSSR) focusing on the socio-economic aspects of rodent infestation in a poor community in Cape Town, South Africa, and the related implications for the use of rodenticides and other poisons. The study originated in response to the controversy over a Public Works Programme (PWP) run by the Khayelitsha Environmental Health Unit in which previously unemployed people were hired to set cage traps in people’s homes and then drown the captured rats. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) threatened legal action (because drowning animals is illegal) and the PWP resorted back to using poison. We explored how people in Khayelitsha felt about the issue and on the dangers posed by poison to people and wildlife.
We designed a questionnaire to collect information about rubbish disposal (including distance from respondent homes to rubbish containers), building quality and socio-economic status. We also explored more qualitative concerns pertaining to social capital, witchcraft, environmental priorities and animal welfare.
We conducted a representative survey of Site C, Khayelitsha. In drawing our two-stage random sample of 222 households, we made use of the ‘small areas’ demarcated by the 2011 census as the primary sampling unit. The sample was stratified by whether the small area contained housing that had been planned (formal housing on cadastres) or was informal (no cadastres) and typically shack settlements. The secondary sampling unit comprised the households within each small area. Design probability weights (the inverse of the probability of each respondent being in the sample) were used to adjust the analysis so that conclusions could be generalised to people living in Site C. The size of the estimation sample, using these design weights, was 46,666, which has good agreement with the census. The dataset is available through the University of Cape Town’s ‘DataFirst’ open data facility. We obtained ethics approval for the survey through the University of Cape Town’s Research Ethics Committee (REC/2017/03/001 and REC/2018/02/006).
Rodent infestation is worse in shack settlements than in formal housing areas.
This is because housing density is higher, housing quality is lower and rubbish removal more erratic in shack areas. Assisting homeowners to improve building quality (blocking off rodent holes, etc.) could help, but ultimately the problem pertains to failures in the refuse collection system for shack areas.
Sanitation services are irregular and inadequate in shack areas.
Over a third of households in the shack areas reported that their main method of disposal of rubbish was to dump it on the street or in the river. The larger the household, the greater the probability of dumping rubbish. Those who said that people in their area would criticise them for dumping rubbish were less likely to dump their rubbish. People living near rubbish containers that were being used illegally for other purposes (running a car wash for taxis, dealing drugs) were more likely to dump their rubbish.
Most people think that the cage-trapping and drowning project should go ahead.
Those who worried about the dangers posed by poison for animals such as cats and owls were more likely to support the project. Those who worried that drowning was painful for the rat were less likely to support it. The results show that people’s attitudes towards the humane treatment of animals mattered and that the SPCA had essentially trumped local values and priorities when it stopped the cage-trapping and drowning project, forcing the City of Cape Town to return to using poison.
Cultural beliefs pertaining to witchcraft, and attitudes towards animal welfare matter more than socio-economic circumstances in shaping attitudes towards cruel or humane rodent control.
Most people said they did not care how rats were killed, although a minority (10%) said they would prefer rats not to suffer (pro-humane stance) and 19% said they would be happy if the rats did suffer (pro-cruel stance). However, those concerned that rats might be linked to witchcraft were more likely to have a pro-cruel stance, while those who agreed that animal welfare is important (that animals should be treated kindly) were more likely to have a pro-humane stance. Taking socio-economic status and rodent presence into account made no difference to these results.