Decoder Ring is a podcast about cracking cultural mysteries. Every episode, host Willa Paskin takes on a cultural question, object, idea, or habit and speaks with experts, historians, and obsessives to try and figure out where it comes from, what it means, and why it matters.
Rats live wherever people live, with one exception: the Canadian province of Alberta. A rat sighting in Alberta is a major event that mobilizes the local government to identify and eliminate any hint of infestation. Rat sightings makes the local news. Alberta prides itself on being the world’s sole rat-free territory, but in order to achieve this feat, it had to go to war with the rat. On this episode of Decoder Ring, we recount the story of how Alberta won this war, through accidents of history and geography, advances in poison technology, interventionist government policy, mass education programs, rat patrols, killing zones, and more. The explanation tells us a lot about rats and a lot about humans, two species that are more alike than we like to think.
Some of the voices you’ll hear in this episode include Karen Wickerson, rat and pest program specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry; Robert Sullivan, author of Rats: Observations on the History & Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants; Phil Merrill, former rat and pest specialist; George Colpitts, historian at the University of Calgary; and John Bourne, former manager of Alberta’s rat control program.
This episode was produced by Willa Paskin and Benjamin Frisch.