Moving day has come and gone for the people and fish, so next it’s the landmark’s rat population that’ll be looking for a new home.

Last Saturday, the wholesale section of Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market shut down for good, bringing an end to a 83-year seafood legacy at the site that’s earned worldwide fame. Over the weekend, merchants made the move to the brand-new Toyosu fish market, located further away from the city center, and on October 11, the demolition of Tsukiji’s Inner Market buildings began.

▼ The now-empty Tsukiji Inner Market

But while the people and fish are now gone from Tsukiji’s Inner Market, there’s another species that experts expect is still in the building: rats. The Inner Market occupied a space roughly five times as large as Tokyo Dome, the city’s premiere sports and concert venue, and once the buildings come down, the four-legged residents will be looking for new homes.

Due to the size and complex makeup of the buildings, experts say they’re unable to estimate just how many rats there are in the Inner Market. However, in preparation for the move to Toyosu, administrators began placing adhesive rat trap sheets and rat poison around the facility at the start of the year, resulting in the capture or death of some 1,700 rodents so far. With demolition work beginning, crews have set up roughly 400 capture boxes and also put up wire fences around the site, in hopes of keeping the vermin from escaping to the surrounding neighborhood. Workers are also removing power lines and overhead wiring from the Inner Market, since they’re used as walkways by the lightweight black rats that live in the buildings, as well as placing nets over water drainage openings, since the larger brown rats (which can grow up to 30 centimeters [11.8 inches]) that also live in the market are excellent swimmers.

However, experts say that even with such precautions, it will be hard to block each and every rat that’s trying to slip through the blockade. Of particular concern is the risk that rats could take up homes in the restaurants and food shops of the open-to-the-public, and still in-business, Tsukiji Outer Market, which can be seen in the bottom-right photo below.

Even a small infestation could quickly mushroom, as both black and brown rats can give birth five or six times a year, with brown rats having litters of 10 offspring and black rats five. What’s more, those rats can be ready to mate themselves in as little as three months.

So despite the efforts of the demolition crews to keep any rats from escaping, restaurants and merchants in the Outer Market are bolstering their own defenses, installing traps, placing netting or wire covers over exhaust and air vents, and replacing their existing shutters with sturdier models with smaller gaps between panels. Adhesive trap sheets have also been distributed to the residents of homes near the market, and temporary biohazard drop boxes have been set up at various points in the neighborhood where dead rats can be turned in for collection by animal control workers.

Aside from the grossness factor, experts warn that the rats are, obviously, unsanitary creatures, and their bodies should not be handled without gloves and a mask. Hygiene isn’t the only safety concern, either, as the animals’ penchants for chewing on electrical wiring raises the danger of both blackouts and fires, further adding to the list of worries for Outer Market merchants and restaurateurs who already find themselves in an unstable position with the loss of prestige for the neighborhood now that the Inner Market is gone.

Source: NHK News Web via Hachima Kiko
Top image: Wikipedia/Kilessan