Build a better mousetrap, September 24, 2007

It has been a long time since we reported on the goings on in Kandy. Well, last night, life got a little more exciting. Perhaps, we mentioned some time ago that we have been blessed with occupants, other than ourselves, in our little dwelling. We had learned, more than one year ago, that there was a rat living in our range. One day, after Lily had seen his tail sticking out from the back, we carried the appliance to the front of the house, took off the back, beat around inside, and watched the critter jump out and run off in the garden.

The insulation around the oven had been gnawed and shredded, but the oven was still usable. Well, it was not long until he came back.

We immediately bought a rat trap, a wire cage with a wire tunnel in the center. The bait is placed at the end of the tunnel. To reach the bait, the victim must cross a trapdoor, which will, theoretically "trap" him in the bottom where there is more food to keep him happy until morning. Well, our friend was able repeatedly to eat the food at the end of the tunnel AND at the bottom of the cage without getting caught. Every morning, the trap was completely empty of food and rat.

We figured that the trap was too small for our furry friend. It seemed that he was holding down the trapdoor, stretching toward the back of the cage, eating the food, and going back home. We looked all over town for a bigger trap. None to be had.

Another day, about two months ago, when Lily turned on the oven, she heard distinctive squeaks. We turned off the oven and waited a while. The squeaks stopped. We lit the oven again to finish baking the potatoes. A few minutes later, we found a baby animal, rat or mouse, on the floor behind the stove. We put him in the trap with a dish of milk and placed the trap outside. The next morning, he was gone.

Ken built a plywood box, a cube with each side being about one foot square. One side was hinged. With the hinged side on the bottom, the box was held open by a toothpick, to which a string was attached. The string went through an eye screwed into the top, and from it hung a piece of banana. The idea was for the rat to pull the string as he ate the banana. The toothpick would fall, and the box would close.

Well, next morning, invariably, the banana was gone, but the trap was still open. Ah, the weight of the box is too much to release the toothpick! Turn the box over. Use velcro to seal the top. (We figured the top was not heavy enough to keep him from opening it just by jumping against it.) Of course, the eye was screwed into the hinged top, so that the bait hung deep into the box. Figuring that the banana was so soft that he could chew it without pulling the string, we used a piece of potato and, at another time, a piece of potato with a piece of banana above it. Well, every morning, the bait was gone, but the trap was still empty. We tried stretching threads across the opening in both directions, primitively weaving them, so that even a little pressure on that might trigger the toothpick. Still no success. We gave up.

Recently, we began noticing that, every morning, the wicks of our oil lamps on the altar were missing. Then, we noticed that toilet paper rolls were being chewed. There were scraps of toilet papers scattered here and there behind cabinets. One morning, we found that even the roll of toilet paper we had in an open brief case had been gnawed. One night, while Ken, Visakha, and a friend were sitting in the office, a little creature came in and scurried behind the computer stands. Another night, Ken saw one (perhaps not the same) hiding (very unsuccessfully) in the window sill of the office, behind a curtain. Another night, Ken heard something near the altar, so he turned on the light and pulled the box, which sits on the floor, out. In the alcove behind the box was a little creature with a VERY long tail. After a few seconds, he scurried through an opening at the back of the altar, up the all beside the fish pond (just behind the altar), through a hole in the ceiling.

The next afternoon, the carpenter closed the opening, but the wicks kept disappearing. We brought out the trap again. For bait, in addition to a bit of banana, we used a lamp with coconut oil, since this seemed to be his preference. Almost immediately, while Visakha was working at the computer, only about fifteen feet (five meters) from the altar, where the trap was set, she heard a noise. Ken investigated and found a little mouse with a VERY long tail in the trap.

The next morning, we called Ashoka, our three-wheeler (tuk-tuk) driver, and he took the trap about two miles away and released our fried near the river. (Not too far from the elephant bathing spot, so perhaps he is terrifying the pachyderms!)

The wicks disappeared again, so we set the trap again. One more mouse! Again Ashoka took him to the river.

A couple nights later, about twenty minutes after we had turned out all the lights and gone into the bedroom, Ken returned to the kitchen to fill a water bottle. On the counter was a large rat! He ran across the counter, down the cabinet, and behind the stove. Obviously, he was living inside, the same as before. Twice more, we set the wire trap. Both times, the food was gone, and the cage was empty.

Then Ken had another idea. Instead of a toothpick with string, what about using an edible support? The box no longer had a hinged cover, so he propped it open on a piece of plywood quite a bit larger than the box. The support was a carrot stick smeared with banana. A square metal cookie tin was nailed to the bottom board so that the carrot could not be eaten from the outside. It could only be reached from inside the box. Within two hours of settling the trap, even before we went to bed, Visakha heard the box fall and scratching inside. Ken could hear no scratching, but, of course, he did not dare try to look inside. Even tapping on the box and moving it a little produced nothing.

The next morning, Ken moved the box to the edge of the board so that he could easily hold it closed while he turned it over. Sure enough, the bottom of the board, where the box was sitting, was very dirty. Ashoka promptly came. He and Ken took the trap to the river, put it on the ground, gently opened it, and the rat, indeed about six inches (fifteen centimeters) long, without the tail, ran as fast as he could across the road and jumped into the sewer.


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