European Rabbit - Photo © DAFWA

The European Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) is a native of south-western Europe and was introduced to Britain in the eleventh century.

Domestic rabbits arrived in Australia with the First Fleet in 1788.

  • By 1827 the first feral populations in south-eastern Tasmania numbered in the thousands.
  • The first wild rabbits were introduced to the Australian mainland near Geelong in 1859.
  • They soon escaped and rapidly increased, reaching New South Wales in only 15 years.
  • In another 15 years they reached Queensland.
  • By 1900 they had reached Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

It was the fastest spread of a colonising mammal anywhere in the world, soon followed by the European Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) using the rabbit as a reliable and abundant source of food.

Rabbits in Western Australia

In Western Australia, rabbits are declared pests of agriculture under the Agriculture and Related Resources Protection Act 1976. This means landholders are required to control rabbits on their properties.

Rabbits have a significant impact on the environment by grazing native plants, particularly on threatened plants and communities, and competing with native animals for food and habitat.

Feral cats and foxes use rabbits as a reliable source of food. However, when adverse conditions such as drought significantly reduce rabbit populations, feral cats and foxes shift their predation to native species.

Controlling the rabbit population

  • Rabbit numbers in Western Australia were significantly reduced by the introduction of the myxoma virus into the State in 1951, spread by the mosquito and rabbit flea. Sporadic outbreaks of myxomatosis still affect rabbit populations, but a general resistance to the virus has developed making the disease less effective.&;
  • Other management options include
  • warren fumigation
  • warren ripping,
  • harbourage destruction
  • poisoning with 1080 or pindone oats.
  • Rabbit-proof fencing of areas of rare plants can be effective where feasible.
  • The Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus or calicivirus was released in Western Australian in 1996, but has only been marginally successful in some areas as a related virus in the wild rabbit population provides a level of natural immunity. Nevertheless, along with myxomatosis and other control techniques, the virus has been effective in helping to keep rabbit numbers low throughout much of the agricultural regions of Western Australia.

The Department of Parks and Wildlife will continue to manage rabbit infestations that threaten areas of ecological significance using the most appropriate and effective management option for the situation.

The department also works with neighbours under the pdfGood Neighbour Policy1.34 MB, recognising that a coordinated approach with landowners is essential.

Links

The Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia

PestsSmart: Rabbits

RabbitScan