New national plan stays hop, skip & jump ahead of rabbits

26 November 2015

Australia’s long-running battle with the feral rabbit has entered a new phase, with the release for public comment of an updated national plan to tackle this major environmental pest.

The latest draft of the Department of the Environment’s threat abatement plan for rabbits has found they affect more than 300 nationally-threatened species, double the number estimated in 2008.

Threatened Species Commissioner Gregory Andrews said the rise in rabbit numbers was not only bad news for farmers, but also for threatened native species like quolls, bandicoots, bettongs and the mountain pygmy-possum.  Even the amazing ballerina orchid is at risk from rabbits.

“It’s a sad fact there are more rabbits in Australia than there are of any native mammal species, including kangaroos,” Mr Andrews said. “Not only do rabbits compete with local animals for food and burrows but they also destroy habitat, eating native plants and eroding soils so that weeds take over. It only takes one rabbit per football field sized paddock to affect native species. The science is also clear that uncontrolled rabbit populations can allow feral cat numbers to escalate because the cats can breed more quickly when food is abundant.”

Andreas Glanznig, CEO of Invasive Animals CRC, said it was excellent to see the national plan identify rabbit biocontrol agents and other rabbit management techniques as a high priority which needs a long-term and ongoing commitment.

“Rabbit biocontrol has reduced the risk of extinction for many threatened species,” he said.

“We know that when rabbit numbers fall the benefits to the environment are high. After the release of RHDV in 1996, studies found that populations of native animals increased, native vegetation regenerated, and fox and feral cat numbers decreased in some areas.

“However biocontrol is not a silver bullet and we must be vigilant when it comes to managing rabbits. Conventional control methods such as baiting, fumigation, warren ripping, exclusion fencing, shooting and trapping – done humanely – are also needed in line with biocontrol to maintain rabbit numbers at low levels.”

Mr Andrews said we all have a role to play in saving Australian wildlife from extinction and protecting farmers’ incomes.

“Rabbits don’t stop at property boundaries and efforts to tackle them shouldn’t either. We need all landholders on board – from farmers and community groups to local governments and conservation land managers – if we are to tackle this threat effectively. Management is always more effective if neighbours coordinate their rabbit control activities.”

The threat abatement plan for competition and land degradation by rabbits is open for public comment until 16 March 2016 at www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/threat-abatement-plans/drafts-open


Media contacts

Department of the Environment media 02 6275 9880 for Threatened Species Commissioner Gregory Andrews

Ian McDonald, Communications Manager, Invasive Animals CRC 02 6201 2890 or 0429 985 643 for Invasive Animals CRC CEO Andreas Glanzig

The Invasive Animals CRC is supported by the Australian Government’s Business Cooperative Research Centres Programme

Link: Rabbit biocontrol in Australia: key facts