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What do we know about Australia’s mouse plague?  

“The only good mouse is a dead mouse,” Australia’s deputy prime minister declared this week, as the country stepped up its war on mice with a plan to poison the plague infesting large parts of the state.

Millions of mice are running riot in the eastern part of Australia and are causing extensive damage to farms. The rodents have even been finding their way into hospitals, schools, and have forced supermarkets to put food in sealed containers.

Videos posted on social media have highlighted the sheer magnitude of the problem with thousands of mice seen scurrying around farms. Farmers described the rodent frenzy as “an absolute plague,” more severe than anything locals have seen in decades.

When did the plague begin?

Experts have called the current plague as one of the worst in decades. The plague started being reported around mid-March in Australia’s eastern states. Some farmers lost entire grain harvests while hotels have had to close because they can’t keep the critters out of the rooms.

In some places, residents of affected areas reported mice falling out from roof tops causing “mice rain”. In addition to being a nuisance and business threat, mouse plagues can also be vectors of disease.

Mice numbers have exploded after a bumper crop last season. With the crisis showing no signs of abating, some farmers are refraining from planting winter crops for fear of damage to freshly sown seeds and ripened grain.

The plague’s affect

The mouse population is estimated to be in the millions, but one government scientist said counting them would be like “trying to count up the stars in the sky.”  Rodents are capable of destroying food grains and can cause widespread damage to domestic households, commercial businesses, farms, manufacturers and livestock.

Further, rodents can not only gnaw through materials but can also ruin supplies by excreting on them. Rodents can also cause diseases such as leptospirosis and typhus fever. They can also carry fleas or ticks that can harm pets and humans.

Rats and mice can stay in walls, ceilings, under cupboards or bathtubs, in rubbish heaps, wood piles, thick vegetation and in holes under buildings. The local health district of NSW has also reported an increase in mouse-related disease.

What the government is doing?

Australia has ordered a banned poison from India to counter the infestation of mice. While the Australian Pesticides Authority hasn’t approved the use of a highly toxic chemical to tackle the scourge, the state of New South Wales is already gearing up for the permit.

Local authorities have secured 5,000 liters of Bromadiolone, one of the strongest mice killers, for distribution across 20 treatment sites in the worst affected areas of the region.  

New South Wales Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall said this month that farmers in the state’s agricultural plains are looking at an “absolute economic and social crisis” if the number of mice, which are in “plague proportions”, is not reduced by spring.