Urban Wildlife Series: Greater Bandicoot Rat (Bandicota indica)

IUCN Red List Status: Least Concern (IUCN 3.1)
National Red List Status: Least Concern

Chances of having a backyard garden of sorts is not so uncommon these days if you have the space – a beneficial trend of sorts borne of the lock downs which were imposed to curb the spread of Covid-19 – and you’d wake up one morning and pay a visit to see how those vegetables are coming along with your morning tea in hand, when suddenly your right foot sinks underground, upsetting the hot tea on yourself. There you are, turning the sky blue for miles along with such colourful language which would make a sailor blush, while frantically trying to pull your foot out, wipe that hot tea off your chest, and trying not to step on shattered pieces of mug, while not letting the sarong slip off. 

After this sudden turn of tragic events has passed and with a clear head you go on to inspect.

Then you note that the Manioc (Manihot esculenta) roots you’ve been carefully cultivating for weeks have been nibbled and munched with relish. A quick look reveals that the hole in the ground was caused by some really articulate tunneling. And then it clicks!

It’s the signature handiwork of a greater bandicoot rat (Bandicota indica) or as it locally known (with gritted teeth) as “ඌරු මීයා (ooroo meeya)” which literally translates to “pig-rat”. It is called as such not because it’s rosy pink and wallows in mud. It’s called so, because when it feels threatened, it will raise its bristly guard hairs (like some knock-off porcupine) and grunt like a small, yet very angry pig. They are big and can get bigger if there is ample opportunity for scoring food. They are not fastidious (not concerned about the what, when, where, how when it comes to food) eaters and would eat anything from grain, household waste, vegetables, fallen fruit, tubers, roots, yam etc…, making farmers and gardeners around the country to roll their shirt cuffs and shorten the length of their sarongs at the tell-tale signs of their presence.

Greater bandicoot rat grunting angrily. Video by Anya Ratnayaka.

Greater bandicoot rats are notorious for their tunneling skills and if the soil is moist and easy to break (like the embankments you find in paddy fields), expect a series of tunnels that would win a standing ovation from any VietCong. The tunnels are used mainly for shelter rather than being used as a larder. Adults are aggressive towards each other and if placed in the same enclosure, they will fight to the death. Their lifespan is about a year and therefore they mature very quickly as characteristic of their species, where the pups (newborn bandicoot rats are named as pups… awww!) sexually mature within 50 – 60 days. A female is capable of producing 8 – 10 litters during her lifetime with 8 – 14 pups per litter.

They are classified as vermin and are also disease vectors (vectors are living organisms that spread infectious agents like a virus or a bacteria from an infected animal to a human or another animal) for deadly diseases like hantaviruses, bovine schistosomiasis and leptospirosis and for the rat lungworm (Angiostrongylus cantonensis). Sadly we humans are contributing for their population boom by our improper management of waste (garbage sites are like K-Zones for these guys). Eliminating their natural predators like rat snakes, civets etc… would also contribute for them to thrive because it upsets the natural balance of ecosystems. Now terminating them left right and center and wiping them off the planet won’t do any good also because as mentioned earlier, they happen to be prey to certain animals and upsetting the way of nature is never a good idea. Best example would be Mao Zedong and his four pests campaign where he named the sparrow as a pest because sparrows ate the rice crop. Then the Chinese people were forced to kill as many sparrows as they can because the propaganda stated that less sparrows would mean more rice crop. Sparrows were driven to near extinction in China and instead of booming the crops, it bombed them because the insect population skyrocketed, driving the crop yield to abysmal levels which caused a famine which caused the deaths of approx. 15 million Chinese people. See how that escalated? Sure bandicoot rats are pests but their population controlling MUST be done after considering all the pros and cons. You can just contribute simply by disposing your garbage properly, having a cat around the house etc. It’s the smallest things that make the biggest change in the end.

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