Though rat infestations after floods are not uncommon, this is "the largest rat disaster the lakeside region has experienced in the last 10 years," Zuo Shigeng, a local agricultural official, told China Daily. As one farmer said, "It's like the mopping up by enemy troops in wars. We have nothing left."
On top of massive destruction to agriculture (6,000 square miles of crops have been damaged), the rodents threaten to spread disease in especially vulnerable areas, a concern that has led residents to bury or cremate more than 2 million rodents -- their bodies weighing an estimated 90 tonnes in total. To kill the rats, people have resorted to poison, some of it illegal, which has led to the widespread deaths of cats and stoked official fears about soil pollution and the development of a "super rat," immune to pesticides.
But some enterprising souls have reportedly entered the rat race with a different idea (and with apparently no qualms about China's recent reputation for food safety): selling them as food. Rats are being sold in greater numbers at live food markets in Changde, at the western end of the lake. From there, animals make their way to un-distinguished plates in restaurants in neighboring Guangdong province. The government has denied the news, saying that bans on wild animals still stand. But Guangdong, the home of Cantonese cuisine, is known for its exotic taste for everything from turtles to sharks to cats. And in China, where there's demand, there's supply -- and vice versa.