Fighting back the plague
The makings of a farm disaster
Australia suffers a mouse plague every decade or so. Some older farmers recall an infestation during the 1970s in which the ground felt as if it was moving, it was so thick with mice.
One contributing factor is changing farming practices. To maintain moisture in Australia’s arid soil, farmers are sowing new crops directly onto the old stalks that were left in the ground.
That means mice have more places to shelter — and have more food.
The New South Wales government has secured 5,000 liters (1,320 gallons) of a deadly bait called bromadiolone. Scientists worry the poison may inadvertently kill other species — wedge-tailed eagles, owls, snakes and goannas (large lizards) that are feeding on the abundant mouse prey.
The mice also carry viruses that are potentially deadly to humans. Health authorities in Queensland state say the number of cases of leptospirosis — a flu-like illness that can lead to meningitis, kidney failure, bleeding and respiratory complications — have almost doubled in 2021 compared with this time last year.
Call in the mouse whisperer
The worst smell ever
Normally a mouse plague will end apocalyptically, according to Henry, as the population grows too big to support itself. Riddled with disease and running out of food, the vermin turn on each other, starting with the sickest and weakest.
He worries that if temperatures don’t drop sharply enough over the winter, many will survive the cooler months, setting up for an even more explosive outbreak next spring.