SYDNEY – After one of the worst forest fire seasons and a global pandemic, Australia now faces its latest End of Days challenge: a “monumental” mouse plague.
Millions of rodents run amok in parts of eastern Australia, and residents share horror encounters every day.
With an epicenter in rural New South Wales, farmers have uploaded videos to social media of mice covering their land, damaging crops and settling in homes.
Guy Roth, who works at a sprawling University of Sydney research farm near the town of Narrabri, New South Wales, said mice had overtaken the property.
“I know we had two mice per square meter in our paddocks on the summit … [so] If I do the math correctly, it’s 20 million mice. That’s more mice than the population of most big cities, ”he said.
Roth once said that he and his family would trap and dispose of around 100 mice in their home and offices every day.
“They’re all over the house. Every time you open a drawer, you may find one,” he said. “You will be sitting at the desk and a mouse will run over it.”
He said the mice ate the cotton crops and the grain stored in silos.
Roth, who has lived in regional and rural Australia all his life, said this was “the worst mouse plague I have ever seen”.
“You definitely smell. That’s my memory of it – the smell, ”he said. “The smell of dead mice in and around the house and farm.”
While the health effects in humans have not been severe, there has been at least one report of the rare mouse-related lymphocytic choriomeningitis in mice.
At least three people were bitten by mice in New South Wales hospitals while they were being admitted for non-mouse related issues.
A spokesman for the state government’s health department, NSW Health, said these bites were “minor” and “adequate treatment was offered”.
“NSW Health employees respond with appropriate control measures,” said the spokesman, listing measures, including increased baiting and trapping, odor repellants and blocking access.
The spokesman added, “The current mouse infestation in western NSW is a natural occurrence.”
What causes the plague?
Steve Henry conducts mouse research with Australia’s national science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization.
Henry said the alien house mouse outbreak was “monumental” and continued to have serious economic and social ramifications.
“Some farmers are giving up the summer harvest … because the mice damaged them so badly that it essentially means a total crop loss,” he said. “And in some scenarios where farmers managed to bring the crop to harvest, it was rejected because it was full of mouse droppings.”
But he said mouse plagues in Australia can happen every five to ten years due to a combination of factors.
“We’ve had a number of dry years and [now] The drought has essentially broken, so the mice adapt to these changed environmental conditions and begin to reproduce, ”he said. “The farmers have had a good harvest and that brings a lot of food into the system. So you have favorable climatic conditions, cheap food in the system, a lot of good protection and a lot of moisture. “
And he said mice are productive breeders because they “can start breeding at 6 weeks and have litters of six to 10 pups every 19 to 21 days thereafter”.
But Henry said that mouse plague usually ends abruptly with a “population crash,” although it is difficult to predict when it will happen.
The winter crops
Farmers in plague-stricken areas are now looking to the winter crops that are typically sown in this part of the southern hemisphere in April and May.
The NSW Farmers industry group has “serious concerns” that some farms are losing all of their seed to the mice.
James Jackson, president of NSW Farmers, said urgent action from the state government needs to be taken, including urgent clearance to use the pesticide zinc phosphide and financial support through a small grant program.
“Mouse control is very expensive. The severity of the current plague has resulted in the need for multiple air and bottom bait applications in growing regions … Action is needed now, ”he said.
According to the group, heavy rains in the past few days have reduced the number of mice in some areas, but they are still “widespread” in central west and northwestern NSW.
“I hear that the rain has pushed more of them into homes and vehicles,” said group spokesman Michael Burt.
For the time being, Australians like Roth stay in the hope that the plague will end quickly.
“Everyone tolerates it, but we really have enough,” he said.