Agence France Presse

Beijing, June 18:

Rising waters in China’s central Dongting Lake, one of the nation’s largest freshwater bodies, are forcing millions of rats into surrounding farmlands where the rodents are ravaging crops, state press reported today. The plague of rats has gotten so bad that officials in Shapanzhou township in Hunan province, are paying 0.2 yuan (two US cents) per rat tail collected, with one farmer bringing in more than 1,000 tails in a two-day period, Xinhua news agency said.

Experts fear the rats will reproduce at tremendous speeds and ravage thousands of hectares of cropland in the region, one of China’s major breadbaskets, it said. Officials have also put epidemic prevention teams on alert for potential diseases caused by the pests. According to one township vegetation protection station, between 300 to 500 rats were found in each mu

(0.067 hectare) of farmland, while in some places the number exceeded 1,000, the report said. Besides eating the rice harvest, the rats are also attacking pumpkins, watermelon, cotton and aspen seedlings, it said. “Countless rats have rushed to raid my rice land. They crazily nibbled the crop. Some even cannot find a place to put their feet and just lay on the back of other (rats),” villager Nie Qiulin, was quoted as saying.