Page last updated at 16:33 GMT, Tuesday, 29 April 2008 17:33 UK

Paris rat-catchers tackle rodents

Real life rats are not as well-loved as their cartoon equivalents

The French capital has launched its annual effort to reduce the number of rodents roaming the streets.

The city, with its canals, river and restaurants is something of a rodent paradise, experts say.

There are four times as many rats as humans in Paris - perhaps eight million in total, according to the council.

A city-wide information campaign, followed by inspections, aims to reduce the numbers of rats on the streets ahead of the lucrative tourist season.

"The campaign period - May and June - is chosen because reproduction is at its peak during this time," said Jean-Roch Gaillet, the head of veterinary services for the Parisian police.

"And also because it is before summer, when we have the highest number of tourists."

Boulangerie pest

While the city's chief authority on rats does not agree with the local media, which proclaim a rat crisis in Paris, he does admit to getting complaints about the pests on an almost daily basis.

People walk past the boulangerie at the end of the day and they see rats or mice running around inside the shop, near the food, and they are disgusted
Jean-Roch Gaillet

Head of Paris police veterinary services

"Paris is good for rats because of the River Seine but there is also a lot of stagnant water which is a very nice place for rats," Mr Gaillet told the BBC News website.

He explained that, following a mild winter, rats had started to reproduce earlier this year.

"People walk past the boulangerie at the end of the day and they see rats or mice running around inside the shop, near the food, and they are disgusted," he said.

The Paris council has no fewer than ten dedicated members of staff who deal with rats, mice and pigeons.

The city's annual purge begins with a public information campaign.

"Our primary task is to inform - some inhabitants don't know that they are actually obliged to fight rats," he explained.

Those who refuse to carry out the recommendations - on cleaning up the area, correctly disposing of rubbish or closing up access holes, for example - face a fine of 150 euros ($234; 118) per offence.

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