People eating cats to blame for rats terrorising African township

It’s been reported in an African newspaper that rats are terrorising Mathendele Township. This is in Swaziland which is a small, landlocked monarchy in southern Africa known for its wilderness reserves and festivals showcasing traditional Swazi culture.

People eating cats leads to rat infestation in Swaziland

People eating cats leads to rat infestation in Swaziland

Residents of this township are complaining of a rat infestation which has caused havoc in a number of homesteads damaging valuable items and belongings. The rats are all over the township and have become a menace. Backyard gardens are being devastated and crops are being consumed by the rats. They are a threat to human beings as well as destroying property.

Poisons do not seem to be killing the rats. Vehicles are being damaged because the rats chew through cables and wiring systems. A representative for the township said that he was unaware of the problem. “I have not heard of such a complaint. If indeed this is true, we should come up with a plan.”

A journalist writing for a local newspaper claims that the lack of cats is one of the causes for the rat infestation. He says that people are eating cats and they are to blame.

“The reason the Mathendele community in Nhlangano [4th largest town in Swaziland] is troubled by rats which are now a menace is because there are now no cats as these pets are believed to be “good meat” to some people.

The cats which should be feasting on the rats are believed to be actually delicious meat the some of the people living in the township.

It is believed that some of the people including ‘foreigners’ eat cats hence there are now a few of them around, something which has resulted in the infestation of rats.

‘Tamed cats’ (domestic cats) have become scarce because they are eaten by some people here. I know foreign nationals who roast cats and eat them” Hanson Nkonyane.

He claims that the rats have taken advantage of the situation. The people who eat cats are to be blamed as rats now roam freely even during the day.


I am simply reporting what I read in a local African newspaper (hardcopy). I think the newspaper is the Swazi Observer. You can see the Twitter feed from which I have taken this story.

It’s interesting in some respects because I remember many years ago writing about a rat infestation in southern China. In southern China they eat cats in large numbers. There appears to have been a parallel crisis in China. We don’t know for sure that eating cats creates an infestation of rats. The argument seems to be too simplistic. Indeed, a lot of people say that cats are not very good at keeping down rat populations.

Nonetheless, it’s worth reporting. There is no doubt that there is a role to play by feral cats in communities in keeping at bay rodent populations considered to be pests. Removing feral cats could see a rat infestation.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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15 Responses

  1. Jane says:

    So Albert didn’t want an explanation after all?

    Why ask for one then?

  2. Albert Schepis says:

    Condoms and pulling out is the answer. Fewer people eat less food (cats) and also complain less. Rat (and every other problem) solved.

    • Jane says:

      Fewer people = less garbage = fewer rats.

      “pulling out” isn’t very effective contraception, but spay/neuter might work. All voluntary of course ?

      I rather like rats, they are beautifully sociable creatures, unlike so many humans.

      • Albert Schepis says:

        I was being funny, though I think there are too many people. Call me anti-social. Good point about the garbage.

        • Jane says:

          People call me much worse ?

          ..especially when I stand up for cats or any species in need of help. They take it personally, silly precious petals.

          My comment alluding to our lack of sociability is about how we, in the modern world have lost our essential ability to create and maintain caring community.

          Every human was born loving, sociable and non violent. I believe it is the most essential element of our evolution and survival. Hence my nihilism ?

  3. Harvey Harrison says:

    Jane. Thank you for your well-written and informative comment. I have the experience in Costa Rica of living the high class expensive “Residencial de Aves de Paraiso in Los Angeles de San Francisco de Heredia who’s residents has lots of expensive pedigree dogs that roamed around freely and consequently inhibited cats from doing their job. Particularly the rubbish collection point was swarming with rats and no cats in sight. Some of my cats to my regret and mistake were allowed to roam freely but one day never came home. It seems to be a hostile environment out there for cats. They do a valuable public service in controlling then rodent population but people there do not recognise that. They prefer a subservient ego elating dog which makes them feel important. Never mind that the noisy dog prevents neighbours from sleeping or relaxing. That is far from neighbourly and considerate behaviour. It comes down to lack of brains.

    • Jane says:

      Thank you Harvey, for sharing your experience. It is very interesting to learn how similar these scenarios are in different locations.

      The “subserviant ego elating dog” (beautifully expressed) prevails in ever increasing numbers everywhere I believe, yet never seems to attract the extreme degree of chagrin & persecution that the free roaming domestic feline does.

      I am sorry that your cat did not come home, it is an unbearable loss. Up until the fairly recent past, my cats were free roaming too. As are most cats in the UK today.

      I would like to see a world where community cats, semi/full feral or tame are cherished and valued for their true worth.

  4. Harvey Harrison says:

    Cats certainly do kill rats and very big ones too. In the past couple of weeks my cats have deposited 6 huge rats on my kitchen terrace. I suppose the heavy and frequent rain of late has driven them out of their hidey-holes in the nearby countryside. They rarely catch any rats during the dry weather. None that I see anyway. The people of the Middle East have known very well of the rodent-controlling abilities of cats, particularly in Turkey, which led to their domestication thousands of years ago. The people of China and Swaziland seem very slow to learn. Will it take an outbreak of the bubonic plague to teach them a lesson? Attached is a photo of a typical street scene in Cyprus of friendly well-fed free-roaming cats which rarely see the inside of anyone’s house. The rats and mice don’t stand a chance.

    • Jane says:

      What a beautiful group of happy, free roaming ginger tabbies, they are gorgeous.

      Your cats are good very hunters. I think it is wonderful that they have the opportunity to pursue their instincts and practice their skill. I think hunting is beneficial to cats psychologically too.

      We used to have an excellent ‘ratter’. Tabbus would bring a set of juvenile rats, often 3 or 4 (maybe a nests worth) and lay them down in a line on the door mat. He’d then come inside & tell us all about it.

      Spring & autumn seemed to be his most favoured hunting seasons. Big adult rats were a bit rarer.

      I really hope that humans do not succeed in breeding out the hunting instinct of the domestic cat. Humans have made a big mess of the cat in many spheres, especially by the practices of some misguided pedigree breeders.

      The poor cat was persecuted so severely in medieval Europe, hence bubonic plague getting such a grip. I think your question is very timely for the people of China & Swaziland but human beings can be very slow to learn, sadly.

  5. Jane says:

    Why were cats domesticated in the first place?

    Because of their rodent deterring abilities. The presence of cats will deter all rodents generally, whether the cats kill them or not.

    Any rat infected with toxoplasmosis will lose fear of cats, making it easier for inclined cats to kill them – bonus! Evolution is wonderful.

    Old countryside belief from the UK:- Wherever there are dogs, there will be rats. Wherever there are cats, there will be no rats.

    In my experience, this is true.

    As ever, nature abhors a vacuum. Dispose of the cat population, rats will move in to mop up human waste.

    As ever, cats are the ones who suffer.

    Cat eating is a recently (1980s) revived practice in China, from times of great rural famine. It happens mostly in the province of Guangdong. Cats are slaughtered brutally and eaten by the well off, educated middle classes in restaurents. Not by the poor.

    There is absolutely NO historical prerogative for the obscene Yulin Festival where cats and dogs are slaughtered in tens of thousands, and eaten as a means to bring in tourism to revive failing businesses in the area. One Mayor is responsible for the idea and promotion of this repulsive event.

    Speak to Chinese people. They will verify this.

    • Michael Broad says:

      My reading of the ability of cats to deter rats is that their performance is variable. It is not automatic today (as opposed to the days when cats were first domesticated) that domestic cats are willing to hunt and kill rats. Mice are a different proposition. Cats can deter rats. Africa might be a different kettle of fish as the cats are often semi-feral and less cosseted. They are probably more effective at rodent suppression.

      • Jane says:

        In my experience, well fed cats, hunt more often and more successfully.

        Hunting skill is usually determined by how well/if the mother cat taught her kittens. They all still have the instinct to some degree. Environment & opportunity seem to sway whether instinct develops into skill.

        In our modern world, kittens are often removed from their mothers, far too early, so even if mum is a hunter, they don’t get that full education.

        The very presence of cats, via all forms of scent can be enough to deter rats/mice, however, the food drive of rodents is high so a few dare devils will often prevail, especially if there is a lot of food concentrated in an area, due to human waste

        I am not convinced that domesticated feline or
        murine behaviour around the world, differs much when both are partially reliant on human populations for survival.

        • Albert Schepis says:

          I disagree that WELL FED cats hunt more or are better at hunting/killing. That hasn’t been my experience, I’ve never read that and it doesn’t make sense to me at all. Did you make a typing error? If not, please explain.

          • Jane says:

            No, I did not make a typing error.

            Think about it. Well nourished, fit hunters have better cognition, less irrational urgency, less desperation that can lead to poor execution of hunting skills. Their physical endurance and immediate strength & energy are also considerably better when they are well nourished and fit.

            Cats, even the big wild ones, even in times of plenty have relatively poor returns on their hunting efforts.

            Look up David Attenborough’s ‘Dynasties’ – the episode about the Marsh Lions of the Masai Mara reserve. That episode illustrates the claim clearly and visually.

          • Jane says:

            PS: Starving cats, stray or feral are more likely to scavenge, carrion or human garbage, than hunt.

            Hunting requires a big investment of energy, which a poorly nourished hunter does not have.

            Ferals tend to form colonies around human populations, where the opportunities to scavenge are greater.

            Mountain Lions/Cougars invading urban residential areas are an example of a wild animal taking advantage of human populations and the food opportunities that humans provide. Left over food waste, open houses, gardens containing small pets, barbeques left out after use, all attract these big cats as they are a less energy demanding source of food than hunting for wild prey is. This has come about due to a reduction in natural prey sources, due to human encroachment on this big predators own environment.

            Many wild animals will exploit the waste matter, unguarded food sources, provided by humans. In some cases, the humans themselves are the easy food source.

            Bears, racoons tigers, panthers all do it too. Modern humans frequent supermarkets, take away food outlets, rather than run for twenty miles with spears/bows & arrows, pursuing suitable prey.

            Feeding birds in gardens, seeds, fats, meal worms etc, is an example of humans inviting other species a low energy expenditure opportunity to be nourished.

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