Of Plagues and Rodents: Australia’s Warfare In opposition to Mice


Nowadays, not a day goes by without a casual comment about animal extermination in Australia. Mice have moved to the top of the queue for species that Australians would most likely want to liquidate. The language used has different registers: gloomy and regretful; serious and scientific; panicked and bloody.

This is all normal fare and characterized by ignoring the anthropogenic nature of the problems. Behind every pest outbreak in the Australian continent is a human hand operated by a confused mind. In Australia, this hand was particularly preoccupied with negligence. Since the 18th century, animal species have been introduced accidentally or by design, affecting and in many cases destroying the continent’s ecosystem.

Some were introduced with the aim of neutralizing other identified pest species, the most catastrophic example that of the cane toad. Introduced in 1935 by agronomists at the Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations, the intended target of the toad was scarab beetles, whose root-eating larvae enjoyed commercial agriculture, particularly sugar cane cultivation. It is known that the toad preferred various sources of food and enthusiastically hunted other species, including native predators. The species blossomed.

The humble house mouse is believed to have arrived on the British First Fleet in 1788, but there is much speculation that the introduction may have come via Dutch ships charting the New Holland coast in the 17th century. A 2011 Study on this question found that “an origin of Australian mice in the British Isles is the most reasonable interpretation of our results.”

Mouse populations have increased recently, particularly in New South Wales and South Queensland, due to drought-breaking rains. Plants were attacked and animal feed reserves contaminated. There have been cases of infection, particularly leptospirosis. As Danica Leys from the Association of Country Women see it, “It’s an economic and health crisis. From the contamination of food and water by mice to the diseases they spread, this pest affects more than just crops, not to mention the stress it causes. “

The increase in numbers also impressed the foreign press offices. The London Express wrote an infestation of tens of millions of mice. Australians had “reported that the mice terrorize their lives, crawl over their faces in their sleep, bite them, invade classrooms and even nibble on patients in their hospital beds.” It wasn’t long before these militant rodents were seen as a threat to Australia’s most populous city. Channel 10 News Sydney had warned of a possible “mouse march”.

As always with the next pest, the solid solution is mass destruction. Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack expressed the popular belief that “the only good mouse is a dead mouse”. To this end, there appears to be no end to the diabolical use of human ingenuity in destroying or regulating a species. Modern mouse killers try to sound like educated middle managers who flirt with scientific-rationalistic investigations. Can we be more modern in the way we massacre them? Take, for example, the next generation of “gene-driven” technology with the New South Wales government very promising $ 1.8 million for the company. (The total mouse control package is $ 50 million.)

The most important feature of this technology is infertility induction, a soft, delicate, gloved version of shipping. This form of eradication is clean, avoids killing other species, and goes well with the bio-controllers. “We’ve already modeled it,” said Paul Thomas from the University of Adelaide conditions, “and it should cause the population to collapse over time.” Thomas is also enthusiastic about the “X-Shredder” approach, in which the X chromosome carrier, namely the sperm of the mice, is targeted.

You might be forgiven for thinking that a daring experiment for the benefit of humanity is about to begin. “Mice arrived in Australia with the first fleet” trumpeted NSW Secretary of Agriculture Adam Marshall, “and from then until now the best control methods we could find have been bait and trapping.”

The less modern aspect of this inspired strategy is the use of a specific poison, bromadiolone, which Marshall likened to the use of “napalm”. (Do we have to worry?) The data sheet of the National Pesticide Pest Center is delighted with its effects. “Unlike some other rat poisons that require an animal to be fed for several days, bromadiolone can be fatal if fed for one day.”

With such dark war metaphors, even the bio-control tinkerers are concerned that this is going too far. Species murder is acceptable, but as with some types of genocide, it involves ceremonial restraint. Killing mice with such a poison would introduce the substance into the food chain and endanger predators.

Peter Brown, head of the rodent management research team at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), Remarks that “anticoagulants can build up through the food chain, so that birds of prey or other animals eat dead mice and they could potentially receive a lethal dose themselves through secondary poisoning.”

Evidence of bird death from ingestion of poisoned bait has already been found in central west NSW. And that in connection with the less toxic and frequently used zinc phosphide. Kelly Lacey, NSW Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Services (WIRES) volunteer, found 100 Galahs dead in a Parkes cemetery late last month. It was especially annoying for her as she was involved in the rehabilitation and release of large numbers of birds in the area.

Bait poisoning from domestic animals and work animals has also been recorded. Peter Best, a South Tamworth veterinarian, estimated that poisoned animals were involved in one of 15 admissions in his practice.

Such facts could only make another CSIRO researcher sigh. “If it is used correctly”, watched Steve Henry: “There should be a very, very little risk that a bird could find one of those zinc phosphide grains and eat it.” The bait was healthy. The same cannot be said of those who use it. “Why birds start falling from the sky is [that] People do inappropriate things. ”Such people used the bait in a way“ that is not described on the label, or people make their own bait ”.

When asked about their views on the problem, Melissa Gray, chairwoman of Healthy Rivers Dubbo, responded recommendedWith no apparent irony, that everyone wanted “the mouse plague gone, but there is no silver bullet”. No silver bullets, maybe, but practically everything else in the armory of destruction. For the president of the NSW Farmers Association, the chaos caused by a poison like bromadiolone was well worth the effort. Showing the somewhat sketchy wisdom of his ancestors, he accepted the deadly calculation. “It will cause poisoning in animals that eat the dead mice.” However, that was “the lesser of two evils”.

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