S'pore may be on cusp of a major rat overpopulation problem: Pest busters
He combs the ground for rat droppings, tracks and gnaw marks.
"Norway rat droppings have curved ends, roof rat droppings have pointed ends," he says clinically.
These scatological clues are what leads pest controller Nur Muhammad, 32, to the mother lode - a rat burrow. The process can take almost two hours.
One burrow can house up to 30 rats. His team of pest controllers found 16 such burrows in a single hawker centre in the south of Singapore some time this year.
As a project manager from The Pestman, he is trained to eradicate all kinds of creepy pests.
But lately, cases of rodent infestations and sightings have been popping up often on his roster.
"For some reason, I'm getting sent to more jobs about rats. Feels like there's more rats around," he says
A check with pest control companies here reveals that rodent-related reports have spiked.
Three of them - The Pestman, PestBusters and Alliance Pest Management - say the number of reports has risen between 20 and 30 per cent this year.
Last month, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said it received 2,490 rodent-related feedback across Singapore in the first nine months of this year, compared with 2,496 for all of last year.
It is a worrying trend because of the diseases they spread, says Mr Muhammad. One can be infected with various rat-transmitted diseases by breathing in dust or eating food that has been contaminated with rodent urine or droppings, he said.
Because of their strong reproductive ability, a pair of male and female rats can produce at least 1,300 rats in a year, if left unchecked.
In 2012, a foreign worker died from leptospirosis, which he contracted while staying in an unauthorised makeshift dormitory. Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection spread to humans by rats.
Mr Eugene Surendra, technical director of PestBusters, believes that the rat problem here is worsening.
Says Mr Surendra: "This year, we are doing more 'flush outs' than before. These are meant for buildings that have established rat populations."
The rodent species here are also difficult to eliminate because of their survivability and resilience.
"I have seen a rat jump over a glue trap... Rats are known for their excellent memory and survival skills. It is not easy for a layman to know how to effectively eradicate them," he says.
For one Toa Payoh resident, Mr K. H. Tan, 44, rats are "an absolute nightmare".
Says the taxi driver in Mandarin: "I have seen so many of them at my void deck recently. I can hear them in the drains and bushes. Very scary, especially when they suddenly run across (the path in front of) you."
His home is spared the infestation as he lives on a high floor. But returning home can be terrifying, says the father of two.
"To avoid the rats, we have to brisk walk from the car to the lift. I don't want my kids to get bitten."
SO WHY IS THERE A SPIKE?
Entomologist Dr Foo Foong Kuan from Alliance Pest Management, believes it's because of the increase in construction projects here.
"(Construction activity) disturbs the rodents' habitats, causing them to seek shelter in housing estates," she explains.
Another reason could be because our neighbourhood cats are too well fed, says Mr Surendra.
"I was taught that cats and rats are mortal enemies, but nowadays it's no longer the case."
Other reasons given by the pest control companies include poor housekeeping practices and structural defects, which allow rodents to enter homes through the sewers or rubbish chutes.
To curb the problem, the NEA started an island-wide surveillance programme in 2011 to monitor the rodent population.
Last July, it awarded a $4.2 million contract to reduce the rat population in public areas for up to two years.
As part of its "Rat Attack" programme, the NEA also called for new public tenders to be awarded to 13 areas prone to rodent infestation late last year.
This includes areas like Joo Chiat, Jalan Besar and Arab Street.
But Mr Surendra is uncertain that these programmes can completely remove the rat problem here.
"The numbers show a worrying trend. You need total eradication. You can't just kill off eight out of 10 rats because you'll return back to square one after a few months."
"We are probably on the cusp of a population outbreak of rats," he warns.
Reporter Ng Jun Sen on how a rat invasion affected his home life. Read it here