urban fauna

New York Is Overrun by Rats and Feral Cats

Photo: Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

There are now an estimated 3 million rats in New York City — a 50 percent increase from a decade ago. The report, from a pest-control company, used rat-sighting data from 2022 and 2023, building off of a previous study by statistician Jonathan Auerbach. Not that it’s all that hard to believe. (“We’ve had rats the size of Crocs just running up and down the street,” as one Harlem resident recently put the problem. “An average size eight, running up and down the street.”) The feral-cat population has also exploded, per the New York Daily News, with estimates ranging from 500,000 to 1 million cats now living on the city streets. “These feral cats running amok everywhere,” a cat rescuer told to the paper.

The rats are multiplying because our city is addicted to putting trash out in bags on the street. And the feral-cat problem grew when free spaying and neutering services were paused during COVID and now, with more evictions and financial pressures driving owners to give up their pets, shelters are reaching capacity across the city. Meanwhile, the human population is still at about 8.5 million, outnumbering the rats and feral cats — for now.

Feral cats are a major issue for local bird populations, but are they also a potential anti-rat task force for the city? (Chicago actually released 1,000 cats to help deter rats and Curtis Sliwa infamously tried to do the same outside of Eric Adams’s apartment earlier this year.) The evidence that this works seems mixed at best — in 2018, a team of Fordham researchers studied a rat colony in Greenpoint for five months, microchipping 60 rats and observing five cats that hung around them. “Are the cats gonna be plucking rats — my microchipped, precious rats, that cost 30 to 50 dollars each?” one of the researchers said he asked himself. But in the end, the cats only ended up killing three rats (Croc size unknown).

New York Is Overrun by Rats and Feral Cats