Posted by: Frederik Balfour on March 27, 2009
It’s not as if China’s dry regions don’t already have enough trouble with drought. Water scarcity in the north and west of the country is a chronic problem, as is the increasing desertification of the countryside caused by global warming. But now, in notoriously dry Xinjiang province, authorities are battling a new scourge: gerbils which are the depleting supply of plants by nibbling away at their roots.
The solution? Let’s call it China’s “One Gerbil” policy.” Forestry officials are putting the rodents on the pill to prevent their population from exploding. The method involves scattering feed laced with a chemical that acts as both a contraceptive and an abortion device. Officials say it’s more humane than killing the gerbils out right and I applaud them. I recall my first visit to a market in Turpan, a stop along the ancient Silk Route through Xinjiang province in 1985 and being horrified at the sight of a dead rat displayed next to some other goods. At first I thought it was for sale, but then realized it was a form of crude advertising, a mute testament to the effectiveness of the rat poison on offer. I now wonder if urban rats will be the next group of mammals to be put on the pill.