There’s a plague of mice on the land.
The tiny invaders are scampering into homes in North Hawaii, being trapped to the tune of 30 to 70 a day per household in some areas, and getting squished in great numbers along roadways.
“It’s been insane,” said Jeff Sacher, owner of Kawaihae Market &Deli. “Everyone is doing whatever they can because they’re all over the place.”
Sacher ordered two cases of glue mouse traps and was out within a week. He has another two cases on order and three more coming after that. The field mice have invaded homes, garages, outbuildings and lanais from Waikoloa on north, east at least to Waimea, with particularly heavy infestations around Kohala Ranch. They’ve even driven a few campers out of makai wildlands north of Kawaihae, according to one resident’s account.
Newton Inouye, the district environmental health program chief for the state Department of Health, said his office has been fielding complaints from North and South Kohala.
“Every three to four years there is an exceptional bloom,” said Inouye, who began receiving calls in June.
“What we’re telling homeowners is a lot of common sense stuff,” Inouye said. “Don’t leave rubbish outside for the mice to feed on. Seal screens and other openings in the house.”
The outbreaks are caused by heavy rains that create a lot of vegetation and feed for the munching hoards. But as the weather starts to dry and food sources diminish, the mice go indoors looking for sustenance, Inouye said.
The disease typhus is sometimes associated with outbreaks of rodents, but there have been no cases related to mice infestation on the island in the past decade, Inouye said.
“We look at it more as a nuisance than a health threat,” Inouye said.
Billy Bergin, a former state veterinarian and current practicing vet in Waimea, said he notices an abundance of scampering field mice when riding the arid ranges between Kawaihae and Waimea, far from human habitation.
“There are mice crisscrossing in front of you,” Bergin said. “They’re out there.”
A long drought probably suppressed populations, then heavy rainfall this spring and early summer triggered a compensating response from the rodents, Bergin said.
The mice are broadly distributed and will probably stick around through the fall, Bergin said.
“We have a lot of cats around, but the trouble is, they bring them to our doorstep,” he said.
Prior to 2009, the DOH vector control program spread poison-laced mouse bait in nonresidential areas, and the measure seemed to keep the problem under control, Inouye said. Following cuts that drastically reduced staff, the DOH no longer has the manpower for such measures, he said.
“Right now, we have one warm body. Three positions are vacant due to retirement,” Inouye said.
For some residents, not a day goes by when they don’t see mice.
“People are spending lots and lots of money on traps and poison,” said Kawaihae resident Diane Kanealii in an email. “If you drive north on Akoni Pule Highway right past Kohala Ranch, you will see thousands of grey spots on the road that are mice squished from cars.”