Panic as mouse plague moves towards Sydney

Friend or foe? In Britain there are around 200,000 pet rats and 100,000 pet mice. © Getty

Have animal rights gone too far? Yesterday, as a mouse army swarmed towards Australia’s largest city, many simply want to exterminate them. Others say they have a right to be respected.

Sydney knew what was coming. The plague had swept across eastern Australia.

Nothing could prepare them for the onslaught: millions of furry creatures swarming through houses. It was a crisis of Biblical proportions.

Australia has been battling a plague. Last year was a remarkable year for grain farmers. But their stored produce was the perfect breeding ground for mice.

The rodents have spread across rural communities. Cities look to be next. The website Mouse Alert shows sightings have doubled since March – with a surge in cases in and around Sydney.

In the Bible, God sent plagues of frogs, lice, locusts and unspecified wild animals after the Egyptians.

Rodents have been demonised, from rat kings to The Nutcracker. For centuries, rats were blamed for the Black Death.

The situation in Australia might justify our hatred. The country has suffered from mice infestations since 1871.

This year, mice have been crawling into beds and biting people as they sleep. They have nested in chairs, eaten furniture and eroded fittings with their urine.

Animal rights organisations argue rodents deserve love.

Rats are able to feel joy and to laugh.

Rats can be trained to detect unexploded landmines and tuberculosis outbreaks.

As a test subject, rodents have helped us develop medicines. We value cats and dogs for entertaining us. Surely rodents deserve as much respect for saving lives.

Have animal rights gone too far?

Of mice and men

Yes. A domestic mouse might make a good pet. But look at the situation in Australia, mice are hurting people, wrecking property and pillaging the land. Mice could destroy civilisation. We should protect ourselves.

No. Earth does not belong to humans. Australia’s mice are just trying to survive. We have the capacity to empathise with the needs of other creatures.

You Decide

  1. What is the scariest type of animal?


  1. In pairs, create and draw the ultimate pest, explaining its habitat, diet and self-preservation abilities.

Some People Say...

“All the arguments to prove man’s superiority cannot shatter this hard fact: in suffering, the animals are our equals.”

Peter Singer (1946 — ), Australian moral philosopher and bioethicist

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Rodents have played an enormously useful role in science. They have been used in medical research since the 17th Century when English physician William Harvey used them to study blood circulation. Small, easy to handle, genetically close to humans and quick to reproduce, they are the optimal lab animal. Today, rodents make up almost 95% of all lab animals. They have been used to test treatments for disease, understand drug addiction and grow a new human ear. NASA even keeps lab mice in space.
What do we not know?
There remains enormous disagreement on whether non-human animals have rights. Supporters argue that there is no morally significant difference between humans and adult mammals. We should not do anything to them that we would not do to ourselves. Against this, critics say that animals are not really conscious, cannot think and lack the ability to behave morally. There is further debate among animal rights supporters on whether some or all types of animals should be protected.

Word Watch

Unspecified wild animals
The plague, from the Book of Exodus, has been interpreted as either flies or wild animals.
Rat kings
In European folklore, a collection of rats whose tails are entwined and bound together. Seldom seen alive, there are several purported examples in museums.
The Nutcracker
A story by ETA Hoffmann in which a toy soldier fights the evil, seven-headed Mouse King. It was famously adapted into a ballet by Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky.
Black Death
The Bubonic plague killed up to 200 million people in North Africa and Eurasia between 1346 — 1352. Research suggests that it was transmitted by fleas and humans, instead of by rats as was once thought.
An infectious bacterial lung disease. In 2018, 1.5 million people died from it, making it the world’s deadliest disease.

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