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Identify rabbits and their impacts
Large populations of rabbits are relatively easy to detect as the damage they cause is usually widespread and highly visible. However the damage caused by low density rabbit populations can be much harder to identify – and may be more serious (eg preventing regeneration of an endanagered plant species). Rabbit numbers, and changes in their impact, can vary dramatically in a short period of time. Without ongoing monitoring and control, these changes can go unnoticed and the problem can get out of hand, resulting in higher management costs.
Rabbit density is a practical indicator of a potential rabbit problem and can be measured easily, quickly and cheaply. Rabbit density can be estimated directly by counting rabbits or indirectly by counting warrens, active warren entrances or signs of rabbits (eg tracks, dung). Instructions on how to rapidly assess a rabbit problem using a simple, visual-based technique can be found in the booklet Rabbits: a threat to conservation and natural resource management. Detailed descriptions of other monitoring methods can be found in the books Monitoring techniques for vertebrate pests: rabbits and Managing vertebrate pests: rabbits.
Is it a rabbit, hare or bilby?
In some situations, it may be difficult to identify what animal you are dealing with, particularly if you are using indirect monitoring methods. There are animals of similar size and appearance to rabbits, such as hares and bilbies. Hares are an introduced species from the same genetic family as rabbits (Leporidae). They live in similar habitat types but are usually solitary, and do not build large warrens like rabbits. Greater bilbies are small, protected native animals that have similar sized tracks to rabbits, and also live in warrens.
Other key differences between the three species are:
Measuring damage and costs
Simple damage assessments can also be used to identify a serious rabbit problem. These include visual assessment of crops eaten out 50 m from warrens, distinct ‘browse-lines’ 500 mm above the ground on shrubs and foliage within reach of the rabbits, increased presence and spread of invasive weeds, and scratching and soil disturbance. Quantifying rabbit impacts using other measures can be difficult, costly and time-consuming, and are generally not practical for many land managers. When assessing suspected rabbit damage to vegetation, crops or pastures, it is important to remember that other animals such as grasshoppers, hares and wallabies might cause similar damage.