Desert Rats in Iraq



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While Kurt, the Fall City Rat Hunter, is a civilian, Marvin from the US Army writes this great story about desert rats in Iraq. As someone who grew up as a military brat and then spent time in the service, I salute the men and women in uniform, especially those folks that are overseas. This was one of the longest and perhaps most interesting stories I've heard, and keep Emailing the Fall City Rat Hunter himself with more! ;-)

From: Marvin W
Date: January 11th, 2005

Hey I love your site and I wish I could have such a site but, because of what I do for the Army, I am severly limited on what I can do publicly.

Anyway to the rat story.

You probably figured already this is a story about Iraq.

In the beginning (All good stories start this way), after we had crossed the border at the beginning of the war, the first city on the hit list, was the shipping port Um Qasar - no satellite photos available. Since this was a major port on the Euphrates River, you can guess it was very populated by the vermin known by us as RATS!

In the port there were tons of wild domesticated dogs. They were friendly as could be and ran around in packs and each pack had a territory with in the port. At first we pushed them away because these kinds of dogs traditionally carry disease. A few days after settlement we started seeing rats in our areas. We had a pellet gun and we were having fun sniping them for awhile but, durning sleep times they would sneak in and dig into our MRE's and what ever else they wanted to. And it was kind of creepy thinking they were climbing over us too! Not even all the camel spiders could keep them away. One day, one of the dogs came trotting up to us with a rat in its mouth. We made the connection immediatly. Saddam kept the hundreds of dogs in the port to keep the rat populations down. So we started letting them camp out on the outside of our tent. That was good! The rats went away and this was good also. The dogs received MRE left overs for their work.

The news must have spread to the other dogs in the port because other dogs would come and try to 'join' our 'pack'. The next thing we had were rival packs competing for the honor of being our guardians. That was actually kind of cool to watch the dynamics of animal behavior at work. This was all good. After about a month of their protection, one of the dogs in our pack became rabbid after it had fought with another dog from another pack earlier in the week. Soon we had a rabies out break in the port and the dogs had to be killed. We spent nights taking them down. This was hard work because the dogs came trustingly to us and after we shot them, they would die with a horrible howling that was heart wrenching. We actually had a sort of mourning period after the loss of these four legged friends.

Good news was just around the corner though, before the rats could move back in, cats started showing up. Cats have a dynamics to them also. They are also territorial but, their territory is much smaller than that of dogs. They will allow cats to hunt in their territory as long as they have permission. There is a definate pecking order and the method of seeing who is top cat is pretty viscious. The scar each other, and hold no punches. If a cat wants to push it's position in the pecking order, they are taking a risk of losing its life. One night we heard a terrible commotion outside and we stepped outside to see two cats sit and stare each other down. They made very loud growling sounds (yes domestic cats growl just like tigers but, on a much smaller scale. They also have this deep noise they make that is kind of like the opposite of purring that they make when they are angry and it is meant as a warning. If a cat makes this noise, stand back, they are ready to attack. Well after the two cats decided not to fight and both walked away we made a note of where they were and decided to test the idea of what we thought looked like an established boundry. We put a piece of engineering tape down in straight line the next day where the cats had a stand off. Sure enough a few days later, we saw the other cat come cruising toward the tape but, stopped about three feet short and scanned the area ahead. It made a sharp right turn and went another way. Interesting stuff if you are a animal behavioral specialist.

The good thing; they killed rats and they killed lots of them. We know this because they left 'gifts' for us at the entrance to our tent. All the protection we needed for just a few scraps of food and a fresh bowl of water a day. They did not like to be touched though. But, like the dogs, the cats developed a behavior that could not be allowed. They would sneak into the tents and sleep with the soldiers on their bags. Outside cats, dispite their appearance of being clean because of all the licking they do, are fairly dirty animals. After it was determined that the cats were starting to make people sick, they two were eliminated from the port.

Rats started coming back. We set traps, we sniped with the pellet gun, but, they kept coming and they were getting BIG as in 2 feet big bodies (not counting tails). This next part will suprise you some, but, in Iraq they have a type of gerbil that is a vegitarian and they are 'territorial'. We put out some cheese and lettuce one night for one that was beginning to frequent our tent. This little guy was so cute we could not make ourselves step on him. Funny thing is, the rats quit coming into our area. After researching the internet, it just so happens that desert rats don't like these desert gerbils. Also, we discovered they kill camel spiders. They also are extremely free of germs, virus', and plagues. They don't drink a lot of water, and are similar to the Kangaroo mouse. They have predators, but, their predators were taken out by the humans so now they had free reign of port. They only lived in area's that had dirt and kept out of sight. These are observational and probably not very scientific. But we only had one family of Gerbil's in our area, about 50 sq feet.

In the end, the little gerbils were trapped and killed also because of a high ranking female that despite our documents on the creatures felt her irrational reaction to rodents put all rodents into one classification. "A good rodent is a dead rodent." I guess this would be true if it were my house and I guess we should of thought of our tent this way. But, the natural defenses to these Port Rats seemed to work the best. The rats learned to avoid poisons and traps.

What we needed at the point where we packed up and moved north, was the Pied Piper and his magical flute.

Well there it is. My rat story for your website archives.

Thanks for your Unix Tools section.

WO1 Marvin W

WOW Marvin, what a facinating saga ... thanx for sending it in ... and thanx again to you and your fellow troops for your service to the good ol' USA.

A year later, I was sent a picture of a 6-shot grenade launcher - I can only imagine what this would do against big rats.