• Monday, Aug 02, 2021
  • Last Update : 06:33 pm

After fire and floods, Aussie farmers suffer devastating mouse plague

  • Published at 06:36 pm June 14th, 2021
A mouse feeding on grains in a wheat hold on Col Tink's farmland in the New South Wales
A mouse feeding on grains in a wheat hold on Col Tink's farmland in the New South Wales' agricultural hub of Dubbo on June 1, 2021 AFP

The plague is the latest in a string of disasters to strike farmers in Australia

After surviving years of crippling drought, farmers in eastern Australia are locked in a months-long battle with hordes of mice that are pouring through fields and devouring hard-earned crops. 

Farmer Col Tink uses a broom to skittle hundreds of roving mice toward a makeshift industrial trap -- essentially a large tub of water where they drown.

It is a brutally simple attempt to slow the plague that has engulfed his farm -- near the rural town of Dubbo -- and thousands of other farms like it across eastern Australia.

But Tink's efforts have barely made a dent. Mice continue to chew through grain and hay stocks while anything remotely edible remains under constant attack.

Skin-crawling videos of writhing rodent masses have been shared around the world along with reports of bitten hospital patients, destroyed machinery and swarms running across roads en masse.

The plague is the latest in a string of disasters to strike farmers in Australia. A years-long drought was followed by months of devastating bushfires from late 2019, before welcome rains became damaging floods in several regions.

"My dad's still alive; he's 93, and it's the worst three years he'd ever seen in his lifetime, and I think it's probably the worst mouse plague he's seen too," said Tink, who mainly farms Brahman cattle.

But the prospect of this plague continuing through the southern hemisphere's winter makes him fearful for preparations ahead of the next dry spell -- which is always on the horizon.

'Chronic' infestations

The outlook is not good, according to Steve Henry, a research officer at Australia's national science agency, the CSIRO.

"When a mouse plague ends, they just disappear overnight," said Henry, who has been studying pest animals in Australia for nearly three decades.

"We're certainly not seeing that at the moment."

Mice are a feral pest in Australia, arriving alongside the first British colonists. The tiny rodent is almost perfectly adapted to exploit the natural boom and bust of agriculture in the Australian climate, meaning plagues are not uncommon.

But numbers this year have been "just astronomical", according to 74-year-old Terry Fishpool, a grain producer from nearby Tottenham.

Large numbers of rodents were reported as early as October, their population fuelled by a bumper crop after the worst drought in living memory.

Bill Bateman, an associate professor from Curtin University in Western Australia, said giant mouse plagues seemed to occur once a decade, but climate change could make them more regular.

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