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Mouse Plague Forces Evacuation of Australian Prison

FILE - Mice scurry around stored grain on a farm near Tottenham, Australia.

Officials in Australia’s New South Wales state say a plague of mice that has been tormenting farmers for several months has now forced the evacuation of hundreds of inmates from a rural jail.

New South Wales Corrective Services Commissioner Peter Severin said mice have done significant damage to the infrastructure at the Wellington Correctional Center, including gnawing through wires and ceiling panels.

"The health, safety and well-being of staff and inmates is our number one priority, so it's important for us to act now to carry out the vital remediation work," he said.

Severin said up to 420 inmates and 200 staff from the jail will be moved to other facilities in the next few weeks.

The facility is in a rural area that has been battling a mouse plague for several months after recent heavy rains relieved the country's worst drought in 50 years. The rain brought in one of the largest ever grain crops, but also provided ample food to the rapidly reproducing rodents. Australian media report that just one pair of mice can produce on average, up to 500 offspring in a season.

The mice have done millions of dollars in damage to crops, prompting the government last month to offer farmers the use of bromadiolone, a highly toxic mouse and rat poison currently banned in Australia. Some farmers and environmentalists have warned of the unintended consequences from its use to native animals.

The Reuters news service reports mice are believed to have arrived in Australia along with the first European settlers. They are well suited to the country's often harsh climate. They can survive long periods of dry weather and when the weather turns, they thrive and rapidly reproduce as food and water becomes available.