The phenomenon occurs mainly in Mizoram, which is heavily covered with two species of bamboo (scientifically known as Bambusa tulda and Melocana bachiphera). The impact can be so devastating that local folklore is full of tales about this natural cyclical event.
B. Hari Gopal of India's Department of Science and Technology in New Delhi was one of the first scientists to investigate cyclical bamboo flowering and the associated growth in rat populations.
The surge in the number of rats, he explained, "could be attributed to a reduction in cannibalism and the shortening of the time gap between pregnancies as a consequence of an abundant supply of highly nutritious food."
The local administration has tried to curb the proliferation of rats by offering a monetary award for killing themequivalent to U.S. $2.50 for every 100 rats killed. The rats' tails are submitted to officials as evidence that the animals have been killed.
Hari Gopal said that when the most recent cycle of bamboo flowering in the region began, villagers were killing about 500,000 rats a year. By the time the flowering peaked about two years later, the number had risen fivefold, to 2.6 million rats killed each year.
Hari Gopal and other scientists are working to better understand the links between bamboo flowering and famine. Meanwhile, the Indian government is devising a plan to deal with a cycle of bamboo flowering and famine that is expected to occur in 2003.
The state has been ordered to greatly increase stocks of food in the region and to store these provisions in rodent-proof silos.
D. N. Tiwari, a member of the government's Planning Commission, said officials were also considering other measures, such as replacing flowering varieties of bamboo with non-flowering ones.
Mohan Ram views such an approach as "outlandish." He believes the only way to avert the cyclical famine associated with bamboo flowering is to teach farmers to plant crops that rats do not eat, such as ginger and turmeric, during the periods when vast fields of bamboo are expected to flower.
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