"It is still livable," says a local official, but after reading about the situation in the Australian town of Karumba, you might disagree. It, along with other towns in Western Queensland, is suffering from an invasion of long-haired rats. NPR reports that healthy rainfall led to a boom in plant vegetation across a swath of the inland Outback, providing food that has facilitated a surge in rats that have since moved toward the coast—via river. As Carpentaria Shire Council Mayor Jack Bawden explains, "The rats hit the Norman River and just start swimming where the tide and currents take a huge number out to sea. Being hardy little buggers, high numbers reach the other side in Karumba."
But as Bawden implies, not all of them survive the journey across the river and have washed up in great numbers along the shore as a result. "The stench is quite bad," Bawden says of the drowned rats, though he says coastal winds make it "livable." The great number that survive essentially have free rein, with Bawden calling traps "a token gesture." One animal control ranger said that he collected 18 bags of dead rats on the first day they arrived—with each bag able to hold 100 bodies.
But the problem won't persist indefinitely. Such large rat migrations happen every three to 17 years, an ecologist tells NPR, with the last one happening 12 years ago. "It's a quirk of nature," Bawden tells the Guardian. "I'll dare to say there's a lot of fat bull sharks and tiger sharks out in the Gulf" right now. Still, the end might not come as quickly as some might like. University of Sydney environmental sciences professor Peter Banks tells Australia's ABC that these rat plagues typically "drop off when food sources become scarce, but the north is moving into the wet season, where it is going to be quite easy for rats to find a meal." (NPR has more here, including a map.)