Rabbit Control

Wild rabbits are a serious pest and invasive species in Australia causing millions of dollars of damage to crops.

Rabbits in Australia are European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in the Lagomorph family.

They were introduced to Australia in the 18th century with the First Fleet and became widespread after an outbreak caused by an 1859 release.

Various methods in the 20th century have been attempted to employ different forms of rabbit control.

Conventional methods include shooting, baiting & gassing of burrows & destroying their warrens, but these had only limited success.

In 1907, a rabbit-proof fence was built in Western Australia in an unsuccessful attempt to contain the rabbits.

The myxoma virus, which causes myxomatosis, was introduced into the rabbit population in the 1950s and had the effect of severely reducing the rabbit population.

The current infestation appears to have originated with the release of 24 wild rabbits by Thomas Austin for hunting purposes in October 1859, on his property, Barwon Park, near Winchelsea, Victoria.

While living in England, Austin had been an avid hunter, regularly dedicating his weekends to rabbit shooting. Upon arriving in Australia, which had no native rabbit population, Austin asked his nephew William Austin in England to send him twelve grey rabbits, five hares, seventy-two partridges and some sparrows so he could continue his hobby in Australia by creating a local population of the species.

William could not source enough grey rabbits to meet his uncle’s order, so he topped it up by buying domestic rabbits. One theory as to why the Barwon Park rabbits adapted so well to Australia are that the hybrid rabbits that resulted from the interbreeding of the two distinct types were particularly hardy and vigorous. Many other farms released their rabbits into the wild after Austin

Rabbits were first introduced to Australia by the First Fleet in 1788.

They were bred as food animals, probably in cages. In the first decades, they do not appear to have been numerous, judging from their absence from archaeological collections of early colonial food remains.

However, by 1827 in Tasmania, a newspaper article noted “…the common rabbit is becoming so numerous throughout the colony that they are running about on some large estates by thousands. We understand, that there are no rabbits whatever in the elder colony” i.e., New South Wales.

This clearly shows a localised rabbit population explosion was underway in Tasmania in the early 19th century. At the same time in NSW, Cunningham noted, “… rabbits are bred around houses, but we have yet no wild ones in enclosures…” He also noted the scrubby, sandy soil between Sydney and Botany Bay would be ideal for farming rabbits.

Enclosures appear to mean more extensive rabbit-farming warrens, rather than cages. The first of these, in Sydney at least, was one built by Alexander Macleay at Elizabeth Bay House, “a preserve or rabbit-warren, surrounded by a substantial stone wall, and well stocked with that choice game.”

In the 1840s, rabbit-keeping became even more common, with examples of the theft of rabbits from ordinary peoples’ houses appearing in court records and rabbits entering the diets of ordinary people.

Shooting

Licensed pest management technicians kill rabbits with a firearm to reduce rabbit numbers only when necessary. This method of control can be effective where rabbit numbers are low and other options of control are limited.

Every situation will be assessed by the pest management technician to determine if it’s the only option remaining.