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Welcome to Indonesia! Much has been said about the friendliness of the Indonesian people and how welcome they make you feel as a visitor to their country. But little has been written about the unwanted critters that might greet you upon your move into a new home in Indonesia.
If you come from a temperate climate and are new to the tropics, the rats, shrews, ants, cockroaches, termites, mosquitoes, cecak and lowak that take up residence in your home may provide quite an unwelcome surprise! Thank goodness their presence in your home can be controlled.
Besides the ascetic concerns of having little critters running around your house and popping up or scurrying about at odd moments to startle you ... there are health concerns with respect to particular pests in your home environment.
In most unplanned housing areas in Indonesia (kampung), there are no sewer systems. The homes most expats live in don't fall into this category as they will have a septic tank/hole. However, the kampung just down the street won't have septic tanks and may feed raw sewage and garbage into street-side gutter system. Even if your neighborhood gutters are clean, rats will travel from neighboring areas and track filth in with them. This makes it all the more important to put as many barriers as possible between your home and theirs.
Household garbage is put in street-side open dumpsters near each house. While the garbage area may have a cover/door ... scavengers will pull the door open and take the garbage out to look for items they can recycle. If the garbage is in a bag, they will undoubtedly rip open the bag to see what they can salvage/recycle out of it. While this may be great for the recycling efforts, this exposes your garbage to pests.
Dogs, cats, rats and flies will also feast on your rotting garbage. In a tropical climate, the organic garbage rots very quickly. If your garbage isn't picked up daily, this can result in a very unhygienic situation in close proximity to your home. Unfortunately pests will track this rotting garbage into your living environment, if you don't set up barriers to their entry. Some people prefer not to put the garbage outside the gate until they see or hear the garbage man coming. This may work well if the garbage collector is predictable. However if the garbage pick up is erratic, this may cause garbage to pile up in your home.
The two primary dangers from mosquitoes are dengue fever (day biting mosquito) and malaria (night biting mosquito). While malaria is not endemic in Jakarta, it is found in many areas of Indonesia. Dengue fever is a concern throughout the country, including Jakarta. The mosquitoes that carry dengue fever must have bitten a person that is infected with Dengue before they can spread it to another person. The Aedes aegypti mosquitoes which carries this virus breeds in clean stagnant water and are thus more of a threat in the rainy season. To prevent disease, the recommendation is always to do everything possible to prevent being bitten by mosquitoes.
Adequate screening of windows and doors, and taking care not to leave these open during dawn/dusk periods when mosquitoes are swarming is advised. Mosquitoes will also seek out dark places in closets and cupboards. Electrified bug zappers and electrified tennis rackets (widely available in Indonesia) can be an effective way to help help tackle the problem too.
A product called “Abate” which is a potent larvicide is a small package of white powder that can be put in water storage unit or pool of water that you suspect might be a breeding grounds for mosquitoes. This product effectively manages a broad spectrum of nuisance and disease-causing insects, including mosquitoes, before they hatch in the water.
Abate can be purchased from most pharmacies in powder form. Recommended usage is:
For 10 liters of water sufficient to 1 gram of powder Abate. examples:
When you need ABATE less than 10 grams, try this way:
Many poorer Indonesians use the green mosquito coils (obat nyamuk bakar) which emit a smoke that deters mosquitoes from the area. The smoke won't kill the mosquitoes, just keeps them away. There is some evidence that inhaling the smoke is not good for humans, so use with caution.
Many Indonesians also apply minyak kayu putih to their exposed skin to keep mosquitoes from biting. It has a pungent odor, but is quite effective.
My Indonesian mother-in-law taught us to use a small amount of cooking oil to coat the inside of a big pan lid, and use that to swipe at mosquitoes flying around inside the house. It's a safe and effective way to kill mosquitoes quickly, assuming your aim is good. And it doesn't bring harmful chemicals into your home environment! They had a family member whose young child died after a widely used chemical was sprayed from the can in their child's room, so we took her advice to heart.
Some people have tried mosquito repelling plants with some success.
Rats and Shrews
Rats and shrews scuttle about in dirty places and could track filth in if you don't block their access into your living environment. Rats not only spread disease, but are also a nuisance as they like to chew through doors, window screens, cables on appliances and computers, electric cables in your attic and even deserted cars where the seats become their nest. If possible, use steel grates with very fine mesh over any drainage holes that could give these pests access to your home. Rat poisons and rat glue could offer another solution to control varmints that have already gained access to your home. These products can be purchased at Ace Hardware and some supermarkets. Be cautious using these products if you have young children or pets.
Cockroaches and Termites
Cockroaches live in unclean conditions, where garbage is open and there is access to food. Many new residents are startled by the scurrying of cockroaches into cracks and crevices whenever they enter a room and turn on the light. Some products that can help control cockroaches are insect sprays, however some people prefer to use Kapur Ajaib (Magic Chalk) which is a product that resembles black board chalk. If you draw a line with it, cockroaches and ants will not pass over the line. Many people will draw lines around their cabinets to make a barrier of access into their cupboards. Termites, as in any tropical climate, can threaten the very structure of your home, if they are not detected early and taken care of. If you see very fine piles of sawdust, you need to investigate further as termites can destroy furniture and wood moldings very quickly. Contact your landlord at the first sign of termites and ask that the infected woodwork be professionally sprayed and treated as soon as possible.
Cecak (wall lizards or gecko) are actually quite helpful creatures as they consume the mosquitoes that live in your home ... but some people don't like them scurrying about the walls and ceilings of their home or leaving their droppings on the furniture or walls.
Lowak or Musang
Lowak (a nocturnal raccoon-like animal or civet cat) find their way into your attic through air vents and set up residence. They also shove aside or damage roof tiles to gain entrance to your attic areas. The fruit they bring back to their nest to eat draws cockroaches and rats into your attic as well. Their urine stains the ceiling below their nest and lets forth a pungent vanilla-like scent.
Cats and Dogs
Due to Muslim religious beliefs, there are few dogs in urban neighborhoods on Java (the situation is very different in predominantly Hindu Bali and Christian areas of Northern Sumatra). There may be an occasional Balinese family with their dogs laying around their homes, and some wealthier families like to raise purebred animals. But, in general there is little bother from neighborhood dogs. There are however, many seemingly wild neighborhood cats, whose nighttime mating snarls keep families up all over the city. The most appropriate response to the noise is to get your household help to throw a bucket/dipper of water at the cats .. and drive them away!
Be aware that most pets in Indonesia do not have the same level of hygiene, healthy diets and veterinary care as well cared for pets in the West. Many people also dislike dogs and cats and will abuse them. Because of this treatment, dogs and cats are often weary of humans and may seem distant. Caution your children about approaching dogs and cats, due to diseases and the potential for bites and scratches. Indonesia is not a rabies free country so caution should be taken around unfamiliar animals. Read more about Pets in Indonesia.
Controlling ants is a constant challenge in Indonesia. Their industrious efforts to sustain their nests mean that trails of ants into your home may be a fact of life during your stay. Spraying trails of ants in your home is totally ineffective. Ants make their nests in your yard, in the attic or in your neighbor's yard and attic. Only a direct attack on the nest will eradicate it. Fortunately there is a more environmentally friendly alternative to spraying Baygon on the ant nest ... trails of ants are relatively easy to eradicate by placing a simple mixture of a small amount of borax glycerin, put in a sweet liquid and set near the ant trail. They will consume the borax and take it back to the nest to feed the queen ant ... and the nest will die. Indonesian drink syrup works great with the borax! You can obtain borax glycerin crystals from your neighborhood apotik (pharmacy). Kapur Ajaib (Magic Chalk) also is very effective to build a barrier to keep ants out.
These blood sucking insects live in wood and natural fibers like kapok (silk cotton) which is used to stuff mattresses and pillows. I've also been bitten by them (in the butt) when riding in the 3rd class section on a train decades ago. They lived in the cane that was used on the benches and the surrounding wood framing.
Before you move in
Prior to moving into a new home, call upon a professional pest control service to thoroughly inspect the home and look for evidence of pest infestation. They can quickly assess the extent to which your new home has been invaded by various pests and give you an idea of what will have to be done to eradicate the pests. Ask their advice on additional barriers that could keep pests out of your living environment. It is recommended that thorough pest control is conducted on a regular basis.
Barriers to Pests
Homes in Indonesia are constructed with different standards than what you would be used to at home. Some of these cost-cutting measures mean that door and window frames don't fit snugly in the wall, gaps appear in strange places, such as around air conditioners and TV cables. Suffice it to say that there are a multitude of ways that pests can enter your home.
But, don't despair, you can do much to prevent the entry of pests from your house by simply establishing barriers to their entrance into your domain. Ask your housing maintenance contractor to install these barriers. These could include: grates on the drains that lead into the yard from the streets, screens on all windows, screen doors on doors that may tend to be left open, grates or heavy chicken wire in areas that rats may tend to enter your house and screens on drain openings within the home (set in bathroom floors). Frequently flush out your drains with a bleach or disinfecting solution and consider keeping the plug in the drain even when there is no water in the basin. These relatively simple measures will make a big difference in reducing your pest population.
Do not neglect your household staff's areas. Keeping them healthy means keeping your family healthy as they handle your food and are in constant contact with family members. Do what you can to create pest barriers into their part of the house as well.
Dangers of Pest Control
Be certain to consult a reputable pest control firm. Ask friends for advice on who they've used to eradicate pests in their home. Taking the time to find a good pest control firm will pay off later in keeping your home environment safe for human habitation.
In Indonesia, controls are lax on chemicals used for pest control. Unknowledgeable operators may spray toxic chemicals in your living environment, chemicals that would be banned in your home country. We've even heard the story of a family that had their house sprayed for termites (mind you that never works) and ended up having to walk away from all their possessions as an independent analyst determined that the toxicity of the chemicals that had soaked into their personal belongings was far beyond safety levels.
While we often think that pest control involves dangerous sprays, there are a variety of safe, 'green' pest control options including the out-of-the-way laying of chemicals that the pests ingest, baiting, trapping, application of powders in pest breeding/resting places and deterrent devices. A good pest control firm will undoubtedly offer you these 'green' options.
Many of the workers that come to your home to eradicate pests will only speak Bahasa Indonesia, so you will not be able to inquire as to what chemicals are being used. Be sure that you thoroughly discuss with the salesman exactly what chemicals, if any, will be used in your home.
Expect the representative of a reputable pest control firm to provide good advice on how to keep pests from your living environment, utilize safe methods for eradicating pests and provide follow-up services to be sure that your home environment is free of unwanted pests.
For more information on how to control pests in your home, read the 'Varmints and Critters' section of AWA's Introducing Indonesia, A Guide for Expatriates.
Last updated April 5, 2014
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