“Owls will not be able to control rats in a densely populated area like Alexandra, it is a complete waste of time,” said Roger Hagerty, founder of Solid Hygiene Solution.
“Hard-hitting measures such as poisoning and trapping rats will be more effective.”
He said an owl would only concentrate on a small area, such as a school playground.
Owl boxes have been placed at four schools in Alexandra, each containing four owls, mayoral committee member for health Nonceba Molwele told reporters on Tuesday.
Another owl box was placed at the Marlboro Gardens Combined school. Barn owls are the natural predators of the rodents.
“In recent years rodents have become a challenge in certain areas of Johannesburg such as informal settlements and overcrowded buildings in the inner city,” she said.
Jonathan Haw from Eco Solutions said a family of owls could eat about 2000 rats per year. Over 300 owls had been released into various parts of Gauteng since 1998.
The New Age reported last month that a one-month-old baby in Alexandra had to go for reconstructive surgery after rats ate three of her fingers and part of her nose. Another baby died in Diepsloot after being bitten by a rat.
Molwele said the municipality had developed a plan to eradicate the problem.
“This strategy focuses on the effectiveness of biological and cultural control factors. The use of chemicals is only as and when needed and within a minimum.”
She said 28 400 rats were caught in Alexandra since a rat cage project was piloted in March 2012. It had since been expanded to all seven regions of the municipality.
“The City of Johannesburg is confident that we can beat the rats through our prevention and clean-up operations, but we need the participation and support of all residents to look after their own immediate environment.”
She said water from leaking taps or broken water pipes, household waste and building rubble provided breeding grounds for rats.
She urged residents to wrap household waste in plastic bags and place them in waste containers.
Alexandra residents welcomed the municipality’s efforts.
“This is good, the municipality really cares for us,” Thandi Dlamini said.
Another resident, Sydney Mhluzi, said: “I wish this can be done every month. It helps a lot. We are able to sleep not worried that rats will bite our children.”