Hong Kong’s Secret War Against Rats

Hong Kong's Secret

Hong Kong authorities have taken a significant step forward in addressing the city’s rat problem by employing cutting-edge surveillance technology. Departing from the traditional method of using sweet potatoes as bait, officials have implemented thermal cameras and artificial intelligence (AI) to gain a more precise understanding of rodent activity across the urban landscape.

Lee Ming-wai, the head of pest control at the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, emphasized the limitations of the previous system, which relied on bait distribution patterns to detect rats. This approach often failed to accurately assess the severity of infestations.

The new surveillance method utilizes thermal cameras equipped with AI capabilities to detect rodents in real-time. By analyzing thermal images captured over several nights, authorities can generate a rodent absence rate, providing a more nuanced understanding of infestation levels.

This innovative approach marks a departure from traditional rodent surveillance techniques, which often relied on subjective observations and bait consumption rates. Stella Cheung Lai-han, a statistician from the department, highlighted the significance of focusing on rodent absence rates, as it offers a more accurate reflection of the true extent of the problem.

Tommy Lam Tsan-yuk, an associate professor at the University of Hong Kong, praised the new technology for its ability to track rodent movements and provide detailed insights into their behavior. Lam collaborated with the department to develop and implement this state-of-the-art surveillance system.

Moving forward, the department plans to expand the use of thermal cameras to approximately 200 to 300 surveillance locations across 19 areas in the city. By targeting areas with high rodent activity based on live captures, complaints, and other indicators, officials aim to deploy more effective pest control measures.

The initial rollout of the new surveillance approach in Wan Chai, Central and Western, and Eastern districts has already shown promising results. With the collection of comprehensive data on rodent absence rates, authorities will be better equipped to implement targeted interventions and mitigate the impact of rat infestations on public health and sanitation.