The preferred method for killing a pack rat is trap or poison. There are many choices, even a chamber that the rat enters only to be electrocuted instantly. The latter had no appeal to me given I even hate the sound of bugs being zapped that way and can you imagine what it'd sound like if it was a rat?
Pack rats are about 4-5" long with a tail of about the same length. They are sometimes called kangaroo rats or trade rats and have acquired a mythology that they will always leave something when they take something. That might well be true, but it's not from any moral sense of fair play. They have to hold things in their mouth to carry them. When something more appealing comes along, first item is dropped. They are drawn to many things. Who knew some of those are phone cables, auto hoses or wiring, as well as holes in ceilings?
When we began considering how to kill the ones in the space above our ceiling and along the ducting, we considered poison, but more experienced people said it does not work very well. The most successful method appeared to be live traps. We bought one that fit into the available space and waited. The first night it was tripped but the sneaky rat had managed the bait without getting caught.
That next morning, we also discovered it had also rebuilt its little nest (which we had removed)-- determined creature. More lessons came in learning to put foil under the trap, so that the rat couldn't reach up through the bars and get the peanut butter (the preferred trapping bait). These little creatures are not dumb.
Second night of trapping reaped success-- one shivering, terrified, tiny, mama pack rat. That explained the rebuilding of the nest and probably why she didn't leave through the extrusion wire which let rats out but not back.
Realizing she was pregnant made us glad we found her before the babies were born. Ack! It also explained her determination to stay and have her babies in the safest place she knew. I wondered if she was last year's mama, who appeared much younger. I wrote about that experience last March in Predator or Prey.
The expected method to dispose of her would be drowning. Most Tucsonians would consider us nuts to even think about whether that was the right approach. I can hear conservatives now saying-- typical liberal; but this is more about only killing when need be. We had time to think about this.
Any rodent can carry diseases like Hanta Virus, but that happens when their population is high. We had observed on our acre and a quarter, we currently have very few pack rats-- although lots of holes. That might be due to king or rattlesnakes as they will go into their holes and hunt them. Population might also be thinned by a bobcat that our neighbor told us had her kittens on our place. He even watched the kittens fall out of the ironwood tree near the house.
Whatever the reason, although we have many holes in the ground made by pack rats, there appear to be few rats.
We had found the hole through which she entered our house. She was doing what any animal, including us, does in trying to improve her natural environment and have a safe place to raise her babies. Having plugged the hole to our satisfaction, we weren’t worried that she could return.
We could have taken her in the live trap to a new area and let her go, but that didn’t seem quite fair either; so we took a gamble and decided to release her right back on our own piece of desert.
When the trap was opened, she ran for it; then she stopped and looked back. Did she remember last year when she was chased from her other nest? Was she curious why we didn’t do what most predators would— kill her? Whatever it was, there was a few seconds of the meeting of the eyes. There was, at least on our end, an awareness of a commonality of all being alive and wanting to stay that way.
There will probably be no happy ending for this little pack rat (which you can see running away finally in the last picture). She will have to find one of the holes to rebuild a nest for those soon to be born babies. She is still at the bottom of the food chain and any owl, hawk, bobcat, coyote or big snake will consider her a nice meal. They have a reason to try to kill her. We didn’t. We just needed her out of our house!
(Click on photos to enlarge if you can't see her as she's in each photo)