Animal charities are asking families to avoid keeping feral street rats as pets, after warning that the hooded creatures are nearly impossible to tame.
The rodent, renowned for its heavily hooded eyes and herd mentality, has seen a sharp rise in interest lately, thanks to widespread television coverage.
“We’re hearing from a lot of households who have raised feral rats in their own homes. They’re cute at first, but when they get somewhere near maturity, they can be a real handful,” explained Dr Mark Fischer, an expert in animal behaviour.
“They often bite the hand that feeds them. And then go through their rucksack.”
Largely nocturnal, feral rats rest during the day, grazing on a diet of crisps and cheap lager.
“They’re scavengers, really. They’ll take anything they can get their hands on. But don’t let them near blackberries, they make them really restless at night.”
Street rats untamed
The feral rat is almost impossible to house-train, with experts often questioned by new owners.
“We get loads of queries asking how to stop them pissing on their own doorstep. We used to advise owners to let them off the first dozen or so times, but some people are now suggesting they should be thrashed.”
People with feral rats are urged to avoid releasing them into the wild, where they can breed at an alarming rate.
“The females are easy to identify, they’re generally a bit dumpier than the males, and wear less jewellery.”
“They sometimes goad males into fighting over them, but they’ll normally just go with the one that starts the biggest fire.”
Feral rats are now a much-threatened species, largely due to their destruction of their own natural habitat.
“They just smash it to bits, it makes no sense,” said Fischer. “They don’t have any natural predators, but they do seem to be their own worst enemy.”
“We’ve tried electronically tagging a few, but we still don’t fully understand them. We’re hoping they might die out.”