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Rabbits: a threat to conservation and natural resource management

Supplier: EnviroAg Services Pty Ltd By: Robert Le Gay Brereton
09 April, 2013

Rabbits are a medium sized rodent capable of adapting to the environment, breeds profusely, consumes large quantities of vegetation, and can be difficult to control.

Rabbits were first imported with the First Fleet but were not successfully established until 1859 in Geelong, Victoria, and by 1890 had moved north to the Tropic of Capricorn.

Rabbits are highly adaptable and commonly live in and under old buildings, in old machinery and storage containers, under timber, blackberry bushes, tussocks and in warrens (if the soilis easy to dig).


Rabbits are one of Australia’s most serious agricultural and environmental pests, costing
farmers an estimated $110 million each year.

Rabbits compete with native animals for food and shelter and are implicated in the extinction or endangerment of several native species.

Rabbits also damage native vegetation through ringbarking, grazing and browsing.

The reduction in vegetation growth and regeneration caused by rabbits is a major contributing factor to soil erosion. Nine rabbits can eat as much as one sheep (one DSE) per night.


Rabbits breed from 3-4 months of age, and breeding seasons are governed by the availability of high protein feed.
Pregnancy lasts 30 days, with litter sizes of 4-5 and up to 8.

A mature female can be continuously pregnant for between 6-8 months and is able to conceive within two hours of giving birth. Each female can produce up to 100 offspring per year under favourable conditions.

Rabbit Control Techniques

The best management strategy for any rabbit control program is:
1. Inspection of the problem.
2. Monitoring (e.g. spotlight counts).
3. Mapping.
4. Initial control options (when and why).

Vertebrate pest management options for rabbits are to do nothing, to instigate a one-off control, to employ sporadic control such as shooting, or to design and implement a sustained control program aiming at eradication in a target area.

The emphasis of any control program should not be on killing rabbits but on effectively managing and controlling rabbits to reduce the damage to production and conservation values in the most cost-effective way. Initial control methods include warren and habitat destruction by ripping, blasting and fumigating. Additional options include poisoning, trapping, shooting and the establishment of exclusion fencing.

Further options include biological control such as myxomatosis and rabbit haemorrhage disease (Calicivirus).

Warren destruction is the most effective method for long term rabbit control; however, landholders should adopt an integrated control approach incorporating appropriate strategies from those listed above.

Follow up control is essential. If only the initial control methods cited above are used then population recovery potential is good to excellent of your program stops here. Follow control such as surface harbour destruction and warren destruction is essential to reduce the potential for population recovery.

The most successful rabbit control programs ideally involves coordination of all neighbouring land holders and managers. It is a good idea, if possible, to organise a rabbit control group for your area.

The appointment of a group coordinator and good planning are essential for a successful program.