It sounds like an urban legend: giant mutant-looking rats roaming a city housing project.
Only there’s a picture.
A photo making the rounds shows Housing Authority worker Jose Rivera minutes after he speared the humongous rodent with a pitchfork at the Marcy Houses.
It’s covered in white fur and looks well-fed. It appears to be about three feet long, including its hideously dangling tail.
And Rivera, 48, says it’s not the only one. He insists that while he was filling a rat hole last week, three came running out – but he was only able to nail one.
“I hit it one time and it was still moving,” Rivera said. “I hit it another time and that’s when it died. I’m not scared of rats but I was scared of being bitten.”
Naomi Colon, head of the Marcy Houses Tenant Association, said there have been sightings of the outsize rat for at least six years.
“The residents have told me that they’ve seen it running around with other rats. She lived with them. She ran into the same hole they ran in.”
Animal experts who viewed the picture identified the animal as a Gambian pouched rat, which is a fairly common pet rat.
They’re nocturnal, can grow to three feet and four pounds or more, and live seven or eight years.
Imports have been banned since 2003, when they were blamed for a monkeypox outbreak that sickened 100 people in the United States.
Dr. Paul Calle, director of zoological health at the Wildlife Conservation Society, said the Marcy Houses specimen was probably an escaped or discarded pet who decided to join the regular rat race.
“They are a very social animal and live in big groups in the wild. Our Norway rats are the closest big rodents it could accompany,” he said.
They can even be trained to sniff out landmines or even tuberculosis. “They’re pretty remarkable animals,” Calle said.
Tenants fear that the Gambian rat has been breeding with the Norway rats and spawning a super-breed of rodents – but zoo officials say not to worry.
The imported rat probably wouldn’t mate with local rats, and it couldn’t reproduce if it did, because each is from a different genus, Calle said.
Residents say that while the monster-sized rat may be the stuff of horror movies, the run-of-the-mill rats are an even bigger nightmare at the project where Jay-Z grew up.
“Even the cats are afraid of the rats. They get together and gang up on the cats, said resident Stephanie Davis, 44.
Pam Davis, 43, added, “They’re here day and night. We don’t dodge bullets. We dodge rats.They’re so big, they should charge them rent.”
The New York City Housing Authority had no immediate comment.
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