It’s not wise to venture out after dark in the farmlands of New South Wales, Australia.
Open the wrong door, walk near the wrong field or flick on the wrong light and you’ll find yourself facing a skittering, chewing, breeding, swarming horde of hungry mice, as the state grapples with a devastating rodent plague that threatens to destroy AU$1 billion worth of crops.
Social media footage shows horrifying scenes from the rodent-ridden state, where mice are seemingly hiding en masse in any dark space available.
The mice are devouring crops, chewing through electrical wires, eating leather seats and spreading rapidly across the region, in what the state government describes as an “absolutely unprecedented” plague.
The mouse population is estimated to be in the millions, but one government scientist said counting them would be like “trying to count up the stars in the sky.”
Farmers are reportedly putting the legs of their beds in buckets of water to avoid getting swarmed and bitten in their sleep. Mice are overrunning many farms after dark, and they come pouring out of grain bags and augers when they’re disturbed during the day.
One family has also blamed their house fire on rodents chewing the wiring.
Officials are now scrambling to kill the millions of mice in order to save the state’s winter harvest — and they’re resorting to some drastic measures to do it.
The state has ordered some 5,000 litres of bromadiolone, a banned poison, to be imported from India so it can kill the rodents as quickly as possible. The move has sparked anger from critics who fear that the poison will kill pets and birds of prey as well, but Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall says the drastic move is necessary.
“We’re having to go down this path because we need something that is super strength — the equivalent of napalm — to just blast these mice into oblivion,” Marshall said.
Officials hope to use the one-dose rodent poison soon, before the onset of winter, which comes in the middle of the year in the Southern Hemisphere.
Environmentalists say the poison could cause sweeping damage to Australia’s ecosystem, tainting the soil and polluting the food chain to kill all sorts of animals and birds.
Meanwhile, farmers say they’re running out of time, as their crops remain at the mercy of the mice.
“We just sow and hope,” farmer Bruce Barnes told The Associated Press.
The plague follows several years of fires and droughts in Australia.
“(We had) really bad years of drought, then a beautiful year in 2020, and this year is shaping up really well, too. But there’s always something,” farmer Michael Payten told CNN. “This year it’s mice.”
Payten says he’s burned a lot of straw in the hopes of ridding the mice of their favourite nesting areas.
“We’re hoping that if we take their burrows away then that’ll expose them to a cold winter,” he said.
“I know it all sounds a bit cruel, but it’s a nightmare.”
— With files from The Associated Press