The cold snap enveloping much of NSW at time of writing won’t help regional communities battling the mouse plague, such unseasonably low temperatures emboldening even the most timorous rodent to migrate from the dusty desolation of the paddock to the heated haven of the farmhouse, to march straight past the ‘No cheese kept on the premises’ sign in the kitchen and to set up home in your doona just in time to give birth to this month’s litter.
But it’s an ill wind, and I can’t be the only person who’s watched the mouse-ageddon news footage and wondered if all that squeaking, surging energy could be channelled productively. And while the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ request that the little rascals be captured and relocated, rather than poisoned, certainly presents insurmountable logistical challenges, it occurs to me there is a way the NSW government could meet PETA half-way and at the same time deliver fiscal benefits to both the regional populations and the state economy. Instead of spending millions of taxpayers’ dollars on poisons – and risking collateral damage to our wedge-tail and wallaby populations – why not simply issue every regional household with forty or fifty $10 hamster running wheels? These could be wired together in sequence, like solar panels, to augment each household’s electricity supply, or even plugged directly into the national grid to benefit us all. Smaller scale mouse plagues being an annual event this would provide seasonal back-up for other, equally weather-dependent renewables. And instead of importing the wheels from China, as we currently do, their domestic manufacture could create jobs in those regional areas affected by the closure of coal-fired power stations.
There is, of course, the very real possibility that Beijing would view our bid for hamster wheel independence as a hostile gesture. But we could mitigate against trade reprisals easily enough. As anyone who’s visited a Shanghai or Guanghong street market will attest, rats are a popular protein source for many Chinese families. What is not so well known is that historically, mice, too, were a Sino-staple, but that this changed when the country’s mouse population was severely depleted by an earlier administration’s decision – faced with a plague of their own – to include mice in their one-child policy. The mouse population of China has never recovered and mice have all but disappeared from menus. The offer of a total monopoly on Australian live mice exports at this time might therefore be the economic olive branch that both our governments are looking for. To sweeten the deal we would, of course, gift them the first few shipments – in much the same way that they achieve their own foreign policy objectives by gifting other countries pandas and viruses. But once a Chinese market for Australian mouse meat was established, we could start applying a modest levy and within a few years our furry feral infestation could be generating more Australian export revenues than crayfish or wine.
One of the few upsides of having a mouse problem is that it almost certainly means you don’t have a rat problem, the two animals having irreconcilable differences on many issues, not least the tendency of the latter to eat the former. The only region of Australia that has ever had a serious, ongoing rat problem is, of course, Canberra, and more specifically the upper ranks of federal party leadership, where even quite small numbers of rats can inflict enormous damage which takes many years to recover from. If real Australian communities ever found themselves overrun with real rats, PETA, having been made to look a little foolish this time round, would be well advised to offer a more financially feasible but equally humane solution. Instead of thinking up another impossible-to-apply eradication program, for example, perhaps they will go old school, and ask that government employ a man in a black and white body stocking to walk through the centre of every affected town playing a pipe in a beguiling manner.
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