Owls seen as solution to Laos rat problem

June 27, 2009 at 3:58 PM

VIENTIANE, Laos, June 27 (UPI) -- Families across northern Laos need to safeguard barn owl habitat to combat the worst infestation of rats in 20 years, agriculture experts advise.

The barn owl Tyto alba is native to the region and feeds almost entirely on rats, which have damaged crops so seriously this year that thousands of families face food shortages, said Serge Verneau, a spokesman for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

"We need to encourage communities not to kill the birds, not to eat them, to leave them in peace, and not to practice slash and burn so frequently that it destroys the birds' natural habitat," Verneau said.

While traps provide a partial short-term solution to the rat problem, safeguarding owl habitat could be a good long-term solution, said

Bounneuang Douangbouapha, a rodent expert with Laos' Hadokeo Horticultural Research Center.

"A long-term approach, based on ecological management, needs to be taken," he said, ruling out rat poison as harmful to the environment.

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