Giant rat found in London: Expert casts doubt on ‘four foot rodent the size of a child’ claim

Professor of ecology suspicious of camera angle and lack of further evidence

Will Worley
Friday 11 March 2016 18:01
The rat that sparked headlines across the country
The rat that sparked headlines across the country

One of the UK’s foremost rodent experts has cast doubt on claims a rat found in London measured around four foot and was "as big as a cat and a Jack Russell put together".

Pictures of the animal circulated widely after gas engineer Tony Smith found it near a playground in the Hackney Downs area of London.

He said it was "about four foot" and "the largest rat I've ever seen in my life".

But Professor Steven Belmain, of the University of Greenwich's Natural Resources Institute, said no species of rat found in England can grow to the size described in reports.

He insisted it was instead just a “fine large specimen,” which likely weighed no more than 500 grams.

“All wild rats in England are Norway rats," told The Independent.

"I accept that they may find very well fed and mature animals that are at the upper limit of size, but they are certainly not going to reach two stone.

“There are rodents in the Tropics such as cane rats that get that big, but there is no way a Norway rat will get that big.”

Prof Belmain also called said there was no “verified evidence” of the rat.

“They are never handed to experts and photographic evidence is often misleading," he said.

“For example, the rat is relatively close to the camera, making it look much bigger in reference to the man behind.”

Hackney Council provided its own example of how this could look as it disputed the alleged size of the rat:

Only one photo of the rat has been circulated in the media, and the workmen who found it said it had been disposed of.

Prof Belmain said the excitement behind the sight of large rats was down to their covert nature.

He said: “Part of the explanation is that people don’t actually see rats very often or only catch a glimpse of them as they move so quickly, so when they do see them up close they are surprised how big they are.”

He also dismissed the idea it could be a more exotic species, saying: “The only other potential explanation is that it is an escaped pet rat of a different species. Some people keep giant African pouched rats as pets, which do get that big.”

“However, these have a very distinct appearance, and the photo in the link you provided is clearly an ordinary Norway rat, a fine large specimen no more than 500 g at the extreme.”

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