Planning landscape-scale rabbit control

Cooke_coverWild rabbits are increasing in numbers, apparently because the effectiveness of rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD) as a biocontrol is waning. This means that the $400 million in annual benefits gained from releasing the disease in Australia is slowly being eroded.

Once again, there is increasing reliance on mechanical and chemical rabbit control methods such as poisoning, warren ripping and fumigation not only for crop and pasture protection but also for conservation purposes. It is now generally acknowledged that even at low rabbit densities (fewer than 0.5 rabbits per hectare) the regeneration of the most palatable native shrubs and trees can be prevented. Wider landscape-scale rabbit control is needed, rather than the previous approaches that focused heavily on benefits to agriculture alone. This is particularly so in mallee-farming areas, where rabbits live mainly among relict natural vegetation on roadsides but obtain much of their food from adjacent crops and pastures.

Methods for removing rabbits are generally well researched and, if used together at the right time of year, can effectively control rabbits. New tools are also available, including a wide assortment of machines, such as log skidders and backhoes, which can be used for warren and rabbit harbour destruction while minimising damage to native vegetation.

Few land managers have the skills necessary to recognise rabbit impact on natural vegetation, and so educational material to help assess rabbit damage has been produced. This will help develop a properly integrated landscape approach to rabbit control. Nonetheless, future work also needs to include proper planning of human resources and budgets to overcome current inefficiencies in rabbit control and to control the animal on a wider scale. Tools such as economic decision models are proving useful in establishing a framework for implementing rabbit control programs and assessing progress. Such tools reinforce the need to use integrated rabbit control methods. That is, after rabbit numbers become at low ebb myxomatosis and RHD have taken their toll, we need to use poisoning, warren ripping and fumigation in sequence during summer and autumn. This is when rabbits are more likely to take bait because pasture quality is poor.

The concepts developed and issues raised in this report are important factors to consider in developing wider community-based rabbit control programs within the framework of natural resource management boards and their equivalents.

Produced by the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre as part of the PestSmart series.

Author Brian D Cooke
Year 2012
Place published Canberra
Publisher Invasive Animals CRC
Department Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre
Pages 33
ISBN/ISSN Web ISBN: 978-1-921777-60-8
Control method Integrated Pest Management
Region Australia - national

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