European Rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus)

Stop the spread!Status: Classified as vermin in Tasmania under the Vermin Control Act 2000

Risk Assessment: Risk Assessment for Australia - European Rabbit


Identifying Features

Rabbits Eating Grass (Photo Chris Cox - Courtesy of Invasive Animals CRC)

Typical European rabbits
Image: Chris Cox, Courtesy of IA CRC

European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) may be confused with hares, which are noticeably larger and have longer hind legs than rabbits. Hares also have longer ears with characteristic black markings.


History

Rabbits arrived in Australia on the First Fleet in 1788 but these rabbits were domesticated and did not spread around Sydney. Rabbits were introduced to Tasmania in the 1820s. The first feral populations were recorded in 1827 in south-eastern Tasmania.


Distribution

Widespread and common in Tasmania. Rabbits occur in a variety of habitats, including urban and coastal areas, agricultural areas, natural forests, planted forests, grasslands and disturbed habitats. They prefer areas of low vegetation with well-drained, deep sandy soils where they can build warrens and where refuge exists, such as scrub, blackberry bushes or fallen logs.

View recorded distribution information in Natural Values Atlas
View recorded distribution information in PestSmart


Environmental Impacts

Rabbit in bush (Photo Tarnya Cox - Courtesy of Invasive Animals CRC)

Rabbit in profile
Image: Tarnya Cox, Courtesy of IA CRC

Rabbits compete with native species for food and shelter, as well as changing native plant community composition and degrading land. They are recognised as Australia's most widespread and destructive environmental and agricultural pest. Feral rabbits may have caused the extinction of several small (up to 5.5 kg) ground-dwelling mammals of Australia's arid lands, and have contributed to the decline in numbers of many native plants and animals.

Competition with native animal species and land degradation by feral rabbits are listed as a key threatening process under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

The close proximity of bushland (harbour for rabbits) to many cities and towns throughout Tasmania means rabbits are often a problem in backyards, gardens and reserves.


Reproduction

Rabbits can increase their populations very rapidly because of the large size of their litters, the short gestation period and their early sexual maturity. Rabbits may breed at any time, if conditions are right, and a pair of rabbits can produce up to 40 young each year.

Rabbit numbers fluctuate according to seasonal conditions, with breeding success related to the availability of feed. Green feed promotes breeding and consequently an increase in rabbit numbers.


Control Techniques

Large rabbit populations are easy to detect as the damage they cause is usually widespread and highly visible. However small rabbit populations may be more serious as their impacts can often go unnoticed (eg preventing recovery of an endangered plant species).

Best practice rabbit management is more than just controlling rabbits. It requires an integrated and strategic plan of action that uses a range of tools and techniques to achieve long-term and cost-effective outcomes. The most effective outcomes occur when rabbit management crosses property boundaries and involves a high degree of cooperation between affected landowners, community groups and other stakeholders.

Control options include poisoning, shooting, removal of cover (habitat manipulation), trapping, fencing, den ripping and biological control. Legal restrictions mean that some control measures cannot be used in certain areas - for example firearm use is restricted in particular locations. One control measure for use in suburban areas is Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD, previously known as rabbit calicivirus disease) and can be introduced into rabbit populations through baiting. In Tasmania, the virus is introduced on carrot baits, following a period of pre-feeding to attract rabbits to the bait. Use of the virus is restricted to trained DPIPWE staff.

RHD is widespread in rabbit populations in Tasmania and the virus may not be a satisfactory control option in all situations. It should be considered for use in areas only where other techniques are unsuitable, and where there has been no evidence of RHD for over 12 months. Properties throughout Tasmania can be inspected by officers from the Invasive Species Branch to determine the most suitable options for rabbit control, taking into account factors including non-target species, extent of the localised rabbit population and weather conditions.

Vermin Control Act 2000 allows hunting at any time on Crown Land, State Forest and private land (with landowners permission). Domestic rabbits should be desexed and kept enclosed; release of unwanted rabbits is illegal.


Did you know?

Australia has the world's longest continuous standing fence - approx. 3250 km long - which was built to protect the pastoral lands of Western Australia from the ravages of rabbits.


Further Information

For advice on controlling rabbit populations in Tasmania contact the Invasive Species Branch on 03 6777 2200.

Release of Rabbit Calicivirus Disease
DPIPWE undertakes rabbit control by releasing Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease, also known as Rabbit Calicivirus Disease where rabbit numbers are causing significant impacts.

Pindone Use for Rabbit Control
Where rabbits are a problem it is sometimes necessary to use poison to reduce the population quickly.

PestSmart
The PestSmart Toolkit provides information and guidance on best-practice invasive animal management on several key vertebrate pest species including rabbits, foxes, feral pigs and feral cats.


See other invasive mammals:

Foxes | Feral pigs | Feral goats | Feral cats | Ferrets | Wild dogs


See other invasive species:

Birds | Freshwater fish | Other species

Contact

Invasive Species Enquiries
Invasive Species Branch
165 Westbury Road
PROSPECT TAS 7250
Phone: 03 6777 2200
Fax: 03 6336 5453
Email: invasivespecies@dpipwe.tas.gov.au

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