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Mouse plague wreaks havoc across two states, destroying crops in Qld, blanketing parts of NSW

By Maddelin McCosker and Vicki Thompson, Sunday January 24, 2021 - 13:35 EDT
ABC licensed image
Angus Dalgleish says the mice are damaging crops, homes and machinery. - ABC licensed

A mouse plague is wreaking havoc across multiple Australian states, as people in the town and country pull out all stops to try to control the outbreak.

A "carpet" of mice has , from Merriwa in the Upper Hunter region to Tamworth and Moree in New England.

WARNING: Some people may find images in this article distressing.

In Queensland, a plague that began seven months ago is leaving a trail of destruction that has cost tens of thousands of dollars in lost crops and property damage.

From southern Queensland to the south-west and up into central Queensland, farmers, graziers, business owners and residents are doing all they can to control the mice, but the rodents seem unstoppable.

Dalby grain grower Angus Dalgleish said the numbers had grown so much he could see mice scurrying among his crops in the daylight.

"Driving around at night you always see mice," he said.

"But when you see them in the daylight, that's when you know there's quite a few of them starting to float around."

Mr Dalgleish said his sorghum, corn and cotton crops were all under attack.

But it's not just the crops the mice are getting into.

"It's everything," Mr Dalgleish said.

"Households right through to machinery sheds, every part of the farming game really."

Floor 'crawling' with mice

Vicki Green, a crop protection manager with the Grains Research and Development Corporation and a farmer from Felton in the Darling Downs, said she had resorted to setting multiple traps in her home, as well as water traps and baits around the property.

"If we walk into our machinery shed at night-time and you turn a torch light on, the floor is crawling," Mrs Green said.

"We've got situations this year where parts of paddocks have just been completely destroyed.

"We've just recently harvested wheat and barley and the mice are coming out of those crops to the freshly planted sorghum and mung beans.

"They're just having an absolute field day."

Rain needed to stop mice breeding

Further west, towns and properties have had little success in controlling the plague since it emerged in July 2020.

The owner of DJ's Produce in Charleville, David Jones, said baits and traps had sold out across the region.

"Every second person that walks through the door is looking for a bait or trap for the mice around town because they're so bad," he said.

"I've had many calls from Roma trying to buy sticky pads and baits because they've been unavailable there."

Mr Jones said rain early last year led to a breeding frenzy and a lack of follow-up rain caused a population explosion.

"There's nothing that's going to stop them out here except for rain," he said.

"So hopefully we get some in the next week or two.

"I've heard stories of people going out 'stick raking' country at the moment and the mice are just flying out of the grass in front of the stick rakes in the thousands."

Plague more widespread than initially thought

As the mice population expands, agricultural group AgForce is urging farmers and graziers to stay on top of the problem in their area to try to stop it spreading further.

AgForce's grains president Brendan Taylor said he was receiving reports of infestations further north.

"I've heard just recently that there have been some significant populations up in the central Queensland area," Mr Taylor said.

"Around Jandowae here in the south and Dalby, across to Toowoomba, people have been baiting on and off for the last six months or so just to manage these populations."

A 'carpet' of mice in NSW

In NSW, the explosion in the rodent population has also led to a shortage of baits and mouse traps for people trying to deal with the infestation.

James Constable, a volunteer lawnmower at the Merriwa racecourse, said rodents laid low in the wet, but now that it was drier, they were everywhere.

"It was a carpet of mice because they were running everywhere trying to get away from the mower. I don't think I have seen them this bad," he said.

Another Merriwa resident, Emma Henderson, said mice and rats had destroyed her appliances and whitegoods.

"They [mice] had made a nest around the oven and to make it more comfy they pulled all the insulation from around the elements of the oven, which was causing my oven to overheat and trip power," she said.

"Then I pulled the oven out with my son, and we found their little nest and a whole heap of insulation down the back of the wall, so I lost my oven, and the smell, oh the smell."

Bec Beeney said she had laid sticky traps at her back door to stop mice entering her home and in one night alone caught nearly 90 rodents.

Speaking from Parkes in the NSW far west, the CSIRO's Steve Henry said farmers there were nervous.

"We are getting reports from pretty much right across the eastern and southern cropping zones of higher than normal numbers of mice for this time of the year, so farmers are pretty concerned," he said.

Rodents blamed for phone, internet outage in SA

In South Australia, rodents are the likely cause of a .

People could not make phone calls or use EFTPOS and ATM machines when 3G and 4G services went down at Pukatja.

A Telstra spokesperson said the outage was likely due to rodents eating away at transmission lines.


© ABC 2021

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