Australia's ongoing mouse plague

The rodents are not only taking a toll on the landscape, but also the wellbeing of farming communities...
02 July 2021




Highly favourable conditions have caused mouse populations to explode in several states in Australia - Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia, and Victoria.

The rodents are not only taking a toll on the landscape but are also severely impacting the wellbeing of farming communities that have been affected.

A year of abundant rainfall after several years of drought has led to bumper crops, providing food for mice to not only thrive but also reproduce at an alarming rate.

In addition, water conservation and environmentally sustainable farming methods - such as minimum or zero tillage - have resulted in an increase in available shelter and food in fields.  Together these create perfect conditions for mice.

Although they are thought to number in the millions, the mice are impossible to count. They breed quickly, and hide in plain sight.

In such numbers the plague has damaged hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of crops and animal fodder.

Steve Henry, a mouse researcher from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, said that mice are turning up everywhere. “Every time you open a cupboard, a mouse or the smell of a mouse is there. So it really has a huge psychological impact.”

Farmers are using zinc phosphide-coated wheat bait to combat the pests. It's a rodent killer that works within the crops, and it's being used to manage the mice on a broad scale.

The results are still to be seen, but Henry says it's hard to know how long the plague will last. “The drivers of the end of an outbreak are not well understood, but these things end so quickly.”

“Increased interactions between individuals spread disease; they run out of food and eat the sick and weak individuals, they eat the babies; and that leads to the population crashing away very quickly.”


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