Thursday, October 21

‘Can’t escape the smell’: Mouse plague grows to biblical proportions in eastern Australia | Rural australia

Drought, fire, the Covid-19 pestilence and a mouse-eating plague. Rural New South Wales has faced just about every biblical challenge nature has to offer in recent years, but now it’s praying for another: an all-powerful flood to drown the mice in their burrows and clear the ruined land of rodents Or some very heavy rain, at least.

It seems that everyone in the rural towns of northwestern New South Wales and southern Queensland has their own history of mouse warfare. In online posts, they detail how they wake up to mouse droppings on their pillows or watch the ground move at night as hundreds of thousands of rodents flee the torch beams.

Lisa Gore of Toowoomba told Guardian Australia that her friend removed the fabric from her couch when it started to smell, only to find a nest of baby mice in the stuffing.

Dubbo resident Karen Fox got out of the shower Friday morning to see a mouse staring at her from the roof vent. There is nothing I can do, he says, because the stores are exhausted with traps.

In Gulargambone, north of Dubbo, Naav Singh arrives five hours early to work at the 5Star supermarket to clean up after uninvited visitors.

“Sometimes we don’t want to go in in the morning. It sucks, they are going to die and it is impossible to find all the bodies… Some nights we are catching more than 400 or 500, ”he says.

Before opening, Singh must empty the 17 traps in the store, sweep up the droppings and throw away any products that the mice have attacked.

“We have five or six containers each week full of groceries that we are throwing away,” he says.

The family business has had to drastically reduce stocks, put what it can in thick containers, use empty refrigerators to store the rest. Nothing in the store is safe, and the mice even make their way into the plastic soda bottles. “They ran faster after that,” Singh jokes.

After years of drought, rural New South Wales and parts of Queensland enjoyed a bountiful harvest due to the recent rainy season. But this influx of new products and cereals has caused an explosion in the mouse population. Locals say they began to notice the swarms in the north in October and the rodent wave has spread south since then, growing to biblical proportions.

Singh estimates that the plague so far has cost the business more than $ 30,000 and he’s not sure how long they can continue.

“It has been going on for three months. It is going to be very difficult, we have lost many clients, ”he says.

Locals say the plague has affected people’s daily lives so much that the usual conversation starter has shifted from a comment on the weather to comparing how many mice they caught the night before.

Pip Goldsmith in Coonamble knew she would have to set traps in her house and in the fields when the mice began to descend, but she had no idea that she would have to do the same in her car as well.

“I noticed that there was a package of seed cookies that had fallen out of a shopping bag in the back seat… the mice had chewed the box and eaten every seed. There was nothing left, ”he says.

Ben Keen with just a fraction of the mice his family catches every night in Coonamble
Ben Keen holds only a fraction of the mice his family catches each night at Coonamble. Photography: Pip Goldsmith

“That night I set six traps and kept checking them. I think I caught almost 20 mice before midnight. “

Goldsmith’s car count alone is now over 100, and he believes the total number of people trapped in his home would be in the thousands.

“They stink, dead or alive, sometimes you can’t escape the smell … it’s oppressive, but we’re resilient.”

The plague has spawned a new form of morbid family bonding, with children enlisted as front-line soldiers in the fight against rodents.

“I have a four and five year old, we have a lot of fun designing our traps with buckets and bottles of wine… they are very quick to catch and dispose of mice. It makes you proud and apprehensive at the same time, ”says Goldsmith.

Pip Goldsmith and other Coonamble residents have had to fix their refrigerators multiple times after mice died in the machinery.
Pip goldsmith and other Coonamble residents have had to fix their refrigerators multiple times after mice died in the machinery. Photography: Pip Goldsmith

Gore, in Queensland, says his 12-year-old son has taken on the role of the house’s main anti-parasite soldier.

“He comes out at 6pm and sets the traps, and then he goes in for about an hour and then he comes out, empties them and sets them back, and keeps doing it four or five times,” she says.

“The record is 183 in one night… It’s like his job right now. He’s very proud of himself, ”he says.

Lucy Moss, who owns the Mink and Me café in Coonamble, says she had to pay to have her refrigerator repaired seven times after corpses of dead mice clogged the machinery.

“The mice go into the fan at the bottom and have a lot of fun and then the fan comes on and they can’t get out,” he says.

This alone has cost him thousands.

The mice have ruined a hay shed on Moss’s farm that he was saving in the event of another drought.

“They move into the hay and they’re peeing and everything. It is a health hazard to feed cows and sheep, so we destroy it, ”he says. “That was our safety net.”

Some Dubbo residents are catching more than 500 mice per night
Some Dubbo residents are catching more than 500 mice per night. Photography: Matt Hansen and Bradley Wilshire

Hay can cost farmers $ 500 a bale to buy in a drought, and Coonamble Mayor Al Karanouh says farmers have lost $ 40 million in his county alone.

“Some farmers have lost up to 2,500 bales… There is not enough money for the council to do something to help. All we can do is try to prevent them from entering our offices, our machinery, our tractors, our trucks. They eat up all the wiring, ”he says.

Karanouh and dozens of other mayors have asked the state government to declare the mouse problem an official pest and to help provide additional bait, but have so far declined.

“I can’t understand why [they won’t declare it]. It’s worse than the 1984 mouse plague, ”says Karanouh.

“I think they don’t want to do it because they are going to have to shell out a lot of money.”

Guardian Australia understands that the NSW government has started to model the effectiveness of financial support to farmers, but no decision has been made.

In a statement, a spokesman for Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall says that “both the Department of Primary Industries and Local Land Services are providing information and assistance to landowners on how to control mice on farms,” ​​but indicates that commercial mouse baits are already available. readily available in stores.

The government may be wary of spending up to tens of millions to try to eradicate the mouse infestation, when a cold snap or heavy rain could kill them naturally.

Industry group NSW Farmers has applied for an emergency permit to use the pesticide zinc phosphide.

A spokeswoman for the federal government says that while pests are “primarily the responsibility of state and territorial governments,” the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Drugs Authority has so far granted an emergency zinc phosphide permit to Cotton Australia and is evaluating two plus.

Locals expect heavy rains in the region this week, and more storms forecast in the coming days, to end the months of infestation.

Females can reproduce as early as six weeks and give birth to 50 young a year, but locals are hopeful that the rain will flood the nests and provide the circuit breaker needed to curb the numbers.

“We are hopeful,” says Karanouh. “If that rain comes our way, it will definitely make a big impact.”

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