In some ways, Jack Miller is the modern-day Pied Piper of Hamelin, but a little more noble and a lot more local. Welcome Bay, in fact.
The original rat-catcher was the colourful star of German Middle Age legend, who used the magical powers of his flute to rid a town of its infestation of rats and save it from the plague.
The story turned bad when the townsfolk reneged on the deal, didn’t pay the piper and, in retaliation, he used the same magical powers to lure the town’s child population away.
Jack’s rat story, however, is much more optimistic.
At just 15, Jack’s motivation is not the lucre, rather the environment, flora and fauna. Instead of the mystical powers of a flute, Jake uses good old peanut butter, rat traps and his motorised chilly bin to harass pests in the upper Waitaha Road and Riverstone area of Welcome Bay.
“So far I’ve caught a dozen rats, one mouse and a hedgehog,” he reports. “Oh, and about seven possums around our house.”
Late last year, Jack saw a Facebook post advertising a presentation by Predator Free Bay of Plenty - the community-led backyard trapping initiative. It aims to bring native birds back to the suburbs and help make New Zealand predator-free by 2050.
That all seems an enormous undertaking for a Year 10 student from Tauranga Boys’ College. Keep in mind, however, that one rat is likely to kill up to 50 birds in its lifetime.
Predator Free Bay of Plenty needed a hand to get rid of rats and give native species a fighting chance, and that triggered Jack’s awareness and conscience.
Later that night, he arrived home with rat traps made by the guys at the Men’s Shed, down at the Historic Village. He vowed to take up arms on behalf of the local tuis and fantails.
“I like the whole idea of catching a rat and knowing I may have saved some native species, because rats do so much damage,” he says.
And his distinctive set of wheels? When he saw a couple blokes on a motorised chilly bin on TV show The Block, he hoped to get one for his 14th birthday.
Little did he know that the gimmicky motorised toy would become a valiant steed in his one-man stand in the war on rats.
The chilly bin now holds all of Jack’s stuff - from bait, traps and trophies, which in this case are freshly-trapped vermin carcasses.
People stop him and ask him about the rat-mobile and he’s getting much better at explaining his mission.
“They are really surprised to learn what I am doing. They say ‘awesome’, ‘great job’ and they really appreciate it.”
One misinformed local thought Jack was just another boy-racer, albeit on a unique set of wheels, only to be delightedly surprised when the truth dawned.
“Shame on me,” they admit. “Here I was thinking the worst of this kid and he was actually doing the best job. It’s wicked to see Jack heading up and down the street now – what a cool thing to be doing.”
The good news is that the Pied Piper of Welcome Bay is just getting rolling.
“I am probably going to get more traps and extend my area of operation,” Jack says. “I also hope other people will be drawn in to help and will drop traps around their own neighbourhood, doing what I do.”
Jack calls it his “wee hobby”, but the tuis and fantails will be grateful to see his cart whizzing around the neighbourhood, warring and winning against the rats.
And the other good news? Jack isn’t alone in his battle. Predator Free Bay of Plenty reports that 959 backyard trappers are now operating, with 134 pests killed in December alone.
For more information on Predator Free Bay of Plenty, visit: firstname.lastname@example.org or call: (07) 578 6664.
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