When I reached India for the first time in 2006 it was around 3am, and I was waiting at a cafÃ© outside the airport for a friend to pick me up. Nothing much happens at such a late time, so I spent my time gazing around, looking for distraction. That was when I first noticed really large rodents running around near some dustbins. My first thoughts were that I had finally found proof for the urban legends of giant rats in New York’s sewage systems, mean creatures the size of cats, attacking everybody who ventured into their dark realm. I put these thoughts away as lack of sleep and jetlag, but to stay with the facts, these rats were really large. Larger than any I had ever seen before.
Luckily, my friend came soon after this and picked me up and I forgot about the monster-rats. However, when I kept seeing them from time to time in different places, I figured that they must be some more common Indian/Asian giant rat species. Some web-research identified these giants as Bandicoot rats. Bandicoot rats are larger than usual rats; they can get as large as 40 cm and as heavy as 2.2 pounds. They are found mainly in South Asia, and there are a few species under that genus. Their name derives from the Telugu word “Pandikokku”, which translates loosely into “pig rat”. Telugu is the language of the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.
In terms of the aggressive sewer rat legend, these rats are known to be more aggressive than their smaller relatives, especially when threatened. They emit pig-like grunting when attacking, hence the name of “pig-rat”. According to Wikipedia, packs of the lesser bandicoot rat have attacked and devoured small children that were left alone, although this could just be another urban legend about pests.
I was totally unaware of the existence of these giants, and am quite sure that most people are. However, should you ever get the opportunity to travel to South Asia, be prepared to be shocked (if you are scared of rodents) or to be surprised (if you don’t mind seeing rodents). From a pest control perspective (where I now work for Rentokil India), I would definitely rank bandicoot rats among the top 5 pests to see when in South Asia, even though I am sure not many people would be interested in a pest-travel guide.