Australia plans biological warfare to eradicate the rampant ‘rat plague’

Australia is home to some of the most fearsome creatures in the world. But nothing is more destructive than the humble house mouse, whose epidemic spreads across vast tracts of farmland and terrorizes the rural population.

Farmers in New South Wales, the hardest-hit state, have warned that furry animals could cost them A$1 billion ($765 million) in lost crops and toxic baits this season. Residents of rural towns fight a six-month battle against an army of wild house mice, which have gnawed through wires into household appliances, polluted water supplies and even bite Patients in hospital beds.

Scientists said that the plague was reinforced by favorable weather conditions after years of illness drought It is the second largest grain crop in the country.

State authorities have suggested “napalming” rats by allowing farmers to use the toxic bromadiolone against rats, which has sparked a heated debate about its environmental impact.

The A$50 million mouse control package unveiled this week includes plans to develop “gene drive” technology to sterilize mice, a feral species that arrived in Australia aboard the first fleet.

Hank, a working dog turned rat, stalks his prey on a farm near Tottenham, New South Wales. © AP

“Mice are everywhere. They poked wires in our dishwasher a few weeks ago and caused a flood,” said Xavier Martin, a grain farmer who lives near the town of Junydah in northeastern New South Wales. around the ceiling and walls.”

He said the plague was threatening his winter crops as well as the mental health of farmers, who have absorbed the devastating impact of drought, bushfires, floods and Covid-19 in recent years.

Martin, vice president of farmers’ lobby in New South Wales, said he opposes the use of bromadiolone due to concerns it could kill wild animals that eat dead mice through secondary poisoning.

However, the NSW government has requested “urgent approval” from the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority to enable farmers to use bromadiolone, a poison that kills by anticoagulation.

“It would be the equivalent of napalming mice across rural NSW,” said Adam Marshall, NSW Agriculture Minister.

Dramatic footage of mice sweeping through granaries, fields and homes has raised the political stakes for the state government. Not only does the rat plague have an exorbitant financial impact for farmers, but it also threatens public health.

“No one forgets about living in a rat plague,” said Steve Henry, a rat expert at the Australian Scientific Research Agency Csiro. “They go into your home, into every closet, into your bed and into your pantry — literally everywhere you go.”

He added that mouse urine can spread serious diseases to humans, including leptospirosis and lymphocytic chorioretinitis, which can cause symptoms similar to meningitis.

For Terry and Nicole Klante, grain farmers who live near Dubbo in New South Wales, the risk of their children and staff becoming ill is a concern.

“Mice have been affected by virtually everything in our workshops, so we have to make frequent for employees to wash their hands because the potential for disease is in everything we touch,” Nicole said.

She said that despite trapping and killing thousands of mice every day, more mice continue to come.

Mice multiply quickly. Henry said one pair of mice can make up to 500 pups per breeding season, which typically lasts from summer to fall.

It is difficult to predict how long the rat plague will last because it can end suddenly as a result of disease, food shortages, and cannibalism.

“When the food runs out, the mice start to excite the sick and weak, prey on the young mice and the population collapses very quickly,” Henry said.

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