Hundreds of inmates are being forced to evacuate a New South Wales prison after mice chewed through ceilings, internal wiring, and destroyed critical machinery.
A stench is reportedly noticeable throughout Wellington Correctional Centre, in the state’s central west, because of dead mice stuck in wall cavities, the ABC reports.
Corrective Services NSW commissioner Peter Severin said up to 200 staff and 420 inmates will have to be transferred to other prisons before the end of the month in order to fix the damage.
“The staff at Wellington have done an incredibly good job in managing the effects of the mice plague, but we need to take this step now to ensure the site is thoroughly cleaned and infrastructure is repaired,” he said.
The commissioner said moving the prisoners out was the quickest way to deal with the effects of the mouse plague, which has caused extensive damage throughout the facility.
Most staff members will be re-deployed to other correctional centres in the region, while a skeleton crew remains at Wellington to oversee and contribute to remediation work.
Assistant commissioner for custodial corrections Kevin Corcoran said the remediation would also investigate ways to protect the centre from future mice invasions.
“We want to do this overhaul once and we want it done properly, which means we’ll be looking at ways to mitigate the effects of similar plagues in the future,” he said.
The mouse plague gripping parts of western NSW for the past nine months is estimated to have already cost NSW farmers more than A$1 billion in damage to winter crops, and there’s no end in sight.
The ABC reports that the mouse plague, which started 10 months ago, has ruined the drought recovery as the pests devour new crops and destroy vital machinery.
The problem is so severe that mice are biting families sleeping in their beds, sending children to hospital.
The mouse plague has been caused by a “perfect storm” of optimal weather conditions for breeding, the end of the 2017 to 2019 drought, and the devastating fires killing off predators.
Experts say there are now many millions of mice. However, it’s impossible to know their true number because of how quickly they breed and their ability to hide.
Regional homes and businesses, particularly food-related businesses like grocery stores and cafes, have also been impacted.
It is also expensive to kill the mice, with the cost of bait rising as demand surges.
The financial destruction, and the disturbing experience of being inundated by mice, is also impacting peoples’ sleep and stress levels.
Mice are typically not migratory and will only move about 100m from their nest or burrow to forage.
However, behaviour studies from the last plague found mice causing destruction hundreds of kilometres away from their birthplaces.