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Life

Australia's mouse plague highlights low-tech responses in high-tech era

Infestation brings despair to farmers but deadly chemical solution may be poisoned chalice

Australia's latest mouse plague is wreaking social and economic havoc in New South Wales, the country's most populous state. (Photo courtesy of CSIRO)

SYDNEY -- Perspective is everything in the great Australian mouse plague of 2021. For animal activists, mice are clever and interesting little creatures with a right to life; for farming families facing ruin as they watch their crops disappear under a constant rodent attack, mice are fast-breeding alien invaders who leave a trail of devastation and disease in their wake. For native predators such as eagles, owls, snakes and goannas (large lizards), the surging mouse population makes for a bountiful feast, but with a potentially deadly sting in the tail.

Certainly, the humble house mouse (or mus musculus) has a lot to answer for in Australia these days. Since arriving on the First Fleet with British settlers in 1788, the little rodent has established itself as "an invasive species par excellence," in the view of mouse expert Bill Bateman, an associate professor at Western Australia's Curtin University.

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