New York has long had a rat problem. The city's rodent scourge is so infamous that rats are practically synonymous with the Big Apple. But are efforts to eradicate the countless pests also threatening Manhattan's treasured wildlife?

Six conservation groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, New York City Audubon, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology at Cornell University in Ithaca, the American Bird Conservancy, Earthjustice, and Raptors Are the Solution, are filing a petition to ban several rat poisons from use in the city. The groups cite hundreds of cases of pet and wildlife deaths linked to the poison, reports the New York Times.

The effort has ramped up ever since Lima, a mate of Manhattan’s famous red-tailed hawk, Pale Male, was found dead under a tree in Central Park in 2012. Necropsy reports have shown that rat poison has likely played a role in the deaths of hundreds of animals in the city since the 1980s. Animals from more than 30 species, including great horned owls, golden eagles and foxes, as well as pets, have been effected.  

“These toxic products are poisoning the food chain,” said Jonathan Evans, a lawyer with the Center for Biological Diversity. “They’re having effects on upper-level predators that feed on small animals. We’re poisoning the solution when we use these products for rodent control.”

The types of poison in question are called second-generation anticoagulants, substances that interfere with blood clotting. Animals that ingest these poisons experience uncontrollable internal bleeding leading to death. In the minds of most New Yorkers, that's not so tragic as it pertains to the city's rats. The problem is that anticoagulants accumulate and remain in the tissues of the animals that eat them. Predators like red-tailed hawks or your pet cat can therefore also become poisoned if they consume the toxic dying rats.

Currently citywide protocol is to suspend the use of rodenticides whenever a breeding pair of red-tailed hawks builds a nest in or near a park, but this measure is not sufficient for protecting pets and other wildlife that also visit the parks. Furthermore, pesticides outside of the parks still threaten the birds year round.

A rat poison ban would not put a stop to rodent eradication efforts. Snap traps, placed in tamper-proof boxes, could still be used. More importantly, fewer deaths of animals that hunt the rats would also help control rodent populations in a natural way.

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Bryan Nelson ( @@brynelson ) writes about everything from environmental problems here on Earth to big questions in space.

Is rat poison killing wildlife and pets in New York's Central Park?
6 conservation groups are fighting to rid New York of harmful poisons originally deployed to control rats.