Rabbit management in Australia aims to reduce the damage caused by rabbits by decreasing the population to a level where their impacts are minimal and numbers cannot quickly build up. As each situation is different, it is important to consider what type of rabbit management approach is appropriate. The four main options are:
1. Take no action:
although this option means there is no cost outlay or rabbit control, it is likely to result in higher costs in lost production and ongoing damage to the environment. However it may be a viable option if the damage is not significant enough to warrant control, or where actions are not likely to be cost-effective.
2. Reactive management:
Responding to a rabbit infestation when numbers are high and damage is obvious or unacceptable is likely to result in high costs for minimal, shortterm benefits. Control applied at this time is likely to be less effective and more temporary than control when rabbit numbers are low.
3. Adaptive management (planned, onging control):
This option is likely to produce positive, long-term outcomes and maximum benefits, as control is applied when rabbit populations are small and most vulnerable (eg during the hot, dry season). Initial costs may be high (including equipment, labour), and an ongoing commitment is necessary to keep rabbit numbers low.
4. Local eradication:
A broadscale, coordinated attack to remove all rabbits from an area is a feasible, long-term management option if there is a concerted effort between neighbouring stakeholders. However effective landscape-scale control is only possible if all rabbit-prone areas are treated. Costs may be high initially, but ongoing and future costs are substantially reduced. Participating landholders need to monitor the area over time to ensure there is no reinvasion, however benefits are high given that no further action should be necessary.
In most cases, the best strategy is to develop an adaptive step-by-step plan which maximises the effect of control efforts and seeks to reduce the detrimental effects of rabbits. The typical planning process broadly involves:
- defining the problem
- developing a plan of action with achievable and measureable goals (eg set timeframe)
- putting the plan into action
- monitoring progress
- evaluating the plan, and
- making adjustments and improvements as required along the way.
A rabbit management plan also needs to take into account other social, economic and environmental factors such as the skill level of those involved, key stakeholders (including neighbours), costs and budget, and other native and pest animals present.
Rabbit management should not be an isolated activity. Rabbits share complex relationships with other animals and plants (both native and introduced), so rabbit control should be just one aspect of the overall management of production and natural resource systems. Other herbivores, including feral goats and kangaroos, can contribute to overgrazing and land degradation problems. It is necessary to determine the impact of each herbivore so that appropriate action can be taken in conjunction with rabbit control.
It might also be useful to plan rabbit control in conjunction with other pest control activities. As rabbits are a major food source for foxes, feral cats and other predators, controlling rabbits without also controlling foxes might lead to an increase in native animal predation. When rabbit numbers are low, fox numbers are also generally low. Take into account the whole system when planning your rabbit control program, as this can increase the effectiveness of control, and lead to better production and conservation outcomes.
A rabbit control program should be regularly evaluated and adapted as costs and conditions change. Regular and effective monitoring of rabbit numbers is crucial to ensure the population does not build up again. Control is not effective if rabbit numbers have to be continually reduced to manageable levels. New information discovered along the way or a change in circumstances (eg financial crisis, natural disaster) may call for changes to be made to the program. Also, if the goals of the program are not met in a suitable timeframe, then it may be necessary to modify the approach or seek further assistance from your local pest management authorities.
Progress in rabbit control must be monitored to ensure that objectives are met, and to allow management options to be adapted to changing circumstances.
Guides to help develop a rabbit management plan:
- Victorian Rabbit Management Collaboration Initiative - Supports community-led action for more sustainable and effective rabbit management in Victoria
- Planning a strategic approach to pest animal management - Pest management plans should be based on the following steps
- Planning landscape-scale rabbit control - Covers important factors to consider in developing community-based rabbit control programs within the framework of natural resource management boards and their equivalents
- Glovebox Guide for Managing Rabbits - Current information on best practice rabbit management for land managers, pest animal officers and others involved in the management of rabbits
- Rabbits: a threat to conservation and natural resource management - Quick assessment method to help you decide if rabbits are a problem and what action you need to take