Exclusive: West End venues to pioneer new form of pest control

The Stage

A major West End theatre group is to trial an Australian system of pest control in a bid to rid its backstage areas of vermin, following complaints from actors.

Pythons, which have been trained to hunt mice and rats, are to be deployed in a pilot scheme across Nimax Theatres. The move comes in response to a survey which discovered that more than three-quarters of West End performers and stage managers believe the theatre in which they work has a vermin problem.

Rodents – especially mice – have long been a problem in the backstage areas of West End theatres and managements believe theatre cats are no longer practical for fear they might be made ill by eating rat poison left out for vermin. It is understood that cats are also ineffective against larger rodents.

In Australia, snakes have been used for many years to control mice and rat infestation in theatres, sports centres and hospitals. This will be the first time, however, that the practice has been employed in the UK.

London theatre owner and producer Nica Burns told The Stage: “Vermin infestation is a problem in many historic buildings in central London. After this survey revealed the extent of the problem, we have been in discussion with pest control experts about how best to deal with the issue. At Nimax, we’ve also been original in our approach to problems and we’re delighted to find such an ecological solution.

“Ferrets were our first option, but because of the pheromones they excrete when in season, we felt that it might be unpleasant for theatre workers and audiences alike.

“On the other hand, snakes are quiet and unobtrusive, and we are confident that performers and audiences won’t even notice they are there. They can be released after the performance overnight and returned to their handlers in the morning, in plenty of time for them to be removed before the matinee.”

Overall, 50 snakes will be let out in the first batch of trials from tomorrow (April 2) and Burns is confident the theatre will be vermin-free within weeks.

Leo Patra, the Australian snake expert who will be overseeing the operation, explained: “Pythons are a bit like dogs. If you train them from a young age, they can perform all kinds of useful tasks. We’ll be using the Royal Python because they can eat a number of mice at a time – they’re more efficient than other breeds. We also have a mongoose which we can send in after the snakes, should there be problems.”

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