Rodent ‘migration’ sparks disaster fears

An apparent mass migration of mice away from waterways in central Burma has caused locals to question whether a natural disaster is looming.

Mice are moving “in their thousands” away from lakes and reservoirs in central Burma’s Bago and Mandalay division and towards urban areas. One man reporting seeing fleets of mice on the Mandalay-to-Naypyidaw highway.

A local in Bago division’s Dike Oo township said that outlying villages had witnessed terns of thousands of mice leave the areas close to Kawliya and Bawni reservoirs and head towards villages.

“They looked like they were migrating. They have white fur on their chest and are running with their tails straight; they looked as if they were running for their lives,” he said.

“We don’t know whether this [is a sign of] a weather disaster, natural disaster or damaged reservoir. But elderly people are saying the mice are fleeing from a disaster of some sort. Now is not yet [the time of the year] for disasters but the mice were running for their lives.”

Migration of animals is closely tied to weather patterns, but evidence of mass movement being a forewarning of natural disasters is less clear. Famously, a freak migration of hundreds of thousands of frogs in central China in early May 2008 pre-empted the country’s worst earthquake in a generation.

Dike Oo residents said the arrival of mice would have little impact on farming as late rains have delayed the growing of crops, although there had been some damage to bean plants.

Locals also expressed concern about the possible spread of diseases, with one man claiming that Burmese authorities had done little to tackle the problem.

An ongoing famine in Burma’s northwestern Chin state has been exacerbated in recent years by the bi-centurial flowering of bamboo plants, which attracts rats in their millions.

Thousands of acres of crops have been lost in Chin state since the flowering began in 2007. The Canada-based Chin Human Rights Organisation (CHRO) said that the fallout from the last mass bamboo flowering in Burma reportedly caused the deaths of 10,000 to 15,000 in India’s neighbouring Mizoram state. The UN claims that Chin state needs around 23,000 tons of food aid to counter the famine.

Similarly, in September last year the UN warned of the potential damage to crop harvests in Burma’s southern Irrawaddy delta from a rodent infestation. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Burmese government had instructed farmers to kill up to 15 rats per day, and submit their tails to local authorities, or risk being fined.

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