Mouse plague in Australia, credit Wikipedia.
Despite a lull over the winter, Australia’s mouse plague never ended – and now it’s threatening new areas of the country. Large numbers of mice continue to plague rural Australian communities as farmers fear yet another crop will be ruined. After dwindling in the winter cold, mouse populations have begun growing rapidly again, CSIRO mouse expert Steve Henry said.
“We’re quite concerned, given them the numbers that have been reported at the moment,” Mr Henry said. NSW Farmers vice president Xavier Martin, who operates a farm in Gunnedah, said the new wave of mice would be a hard blow for farmers still reeling from the plague earlier in the year. “A lot of farmers are on edge because they’re still trying to deal with contaminated hay and crops,” he said.
“Some contaminated produce had to be buried or burnt. So they’re very wary about this upcoming harvest and hay making.” The mice are multiplying fast across a wide area that stretches from northern NSW to southern Queensland. The worst-hit areas in recent weeks appear to be around Walgett and Moree in NSW, and in the Darling Downs in Queensland.
But there is also an area in Western Australia where mice are breeding fast, according to Mr Henry. “It’s unusual – historically, there haven’t been many mouse plagues out there,” he said. Victoria and South Australia also has areas where mice are spreading. The CSIRO has urged farmers to actively monitor the mouse numbers on their properties and consider baiting with zinc phosphide.
The organisation said its experts had been unable to monitor paddocks in person due to coronavirus travel restrictions, and that it had relied on a network of farmers to take stock of the mouse situation. “Mouse numbers are moderate to high in many areas,” the CSIRO wrote in a report last month. “Given the excellent conditions in many areas, mice will commence breeding early (lots of food, cover and moisture) and mouse numbers will only increase.”
At the height of the infestation last autumn, it was reported the mouse plague was on track to cause up to $100 million worth of damage and worsen a mental health crisis in the regions. Some farmers lost as much as $300,000 in ruined crops as the mice chewed through anything they can get their teeth in.