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Feral Rabbit Hunting in Australia

Angela Maiden Rabbit Hunting Leave a Comment

Rabbits arrived in Australia with the first fleet in 1788, but didn’t become a problem until 1859. This is when just 24 wild rabbits were released for hunting purposes. By 1886 there was a wild rabbit population found in both Victoria and New South Wales.

They were in the current range across Australia by 1910, with the estimated population at 10 billion in 1920, and with the current population estimated around 200 million. There are some areas of Australia free of rabbits. With 23 million hectares of New South Wales including 2 million hectares of National parks. Also areas in the far north have low numbers of rabbits due to high numbers of predators.



Rabbit Population

Rabbits are the fastest colonising mammal any where in the world so it is important to control the population.

In Australia feral rabbits are wide ranging but have the highest populations in arid and semi-arid areas. The damage done by feral rabbits grazing and burrowing cause major erosion problems and reduce the diversity of the native vegetation and animal species. They also impact on the spread of introduced predators such as foxes, wild dogs and feral cats.

This has a lead on affect to the decline in population of native animals as rabbits graze the same areas as threatened species and the opportunist predators take advantage of this. The environmental cost of feral rabbits is inestimable as they have been impacting on the native population for a long time.

There have been many different techniques tried to control the feral rabbit populations in Australia. In 1887 the New South Wales government offered a reward of £25,000 for “any method of success not previously known to the colony for the effectual extermination of rabbits”.

With a royal commission being held in 1901 to investigate the situation. To control the spread of rabbits into Western Australia a fence was constructed between 1901-1907, there were 3 fences constructed to keep rabbits and other agricultural pests out of the pastoral areas and stretched 3,256 km. The no.1 fence was the longest unbroken fence in the world. With the introduction of Myxomatosis in 1950’s the importance of the rabbit proof fence diminished.

A rabbit proof fence is also in Queensland and was constructed from 1893 and was continually extended until the final section connecting to the dingo fence in 1997. So it now extends from Mount Gipps to Goombi, between Chinchilla and Mills.

Rabbit Effect on Agriculture

Feral rabbits impact on Australian agriculture is estimated at around $200 million per year, this is mostly from over grazing. Erosion is also an issue, so is stock losses from broken limbs from legs twisting in warrens.



Rabbit Poisoning

In most states it is the landholders legal obligation to control feral rabbits. The poisoning of rabbits with 1080 baits is a popular way of controlling feral Rabbits and is highly effective during the non breeding season usually mid to late summer.

NOTICE: Rabbit Poisoning
There are strict rules for the use 1080 poison in Australia so please follow the state laws on this.

Controlling Rabbit Population

The destruction of the warrens is a way to control the repopulation of areas as rabbits do not build warrens readily. This is a good way after a large population has been destroyed.

The fumigation of the Warren is a good way of controlling feral Rabbits when other methods are unsuitable. It is done by placing a tablet into the warren and blocking off the entrances. The tablet reacts with the moisture in the soil. It is important to recheck to make sure that they are not re-inhabited. This has to be done in a very controlled manner as it is harmful to humans as well in confined spaces.

The use of ferrets can be used by closing off entrances and placing ferrets down the warren and netting escaping rabbits and then the ferrets when they have finished exploring the warrens.

The use of Myxomatosis in the 1950s was very effective way to control feral rabbits, until populations increased its genetic resistance to it. The release of RHDV caused by a Calicivirus, it entered the wild population in 1995 in South Australia. With a new K5 strain been found in Finland and is expected to released into the wild population in Australia in autumn 2017.

To register to receive the vials contact Pestsmart.

Conclusion

The shooting of feral rabbits in Australia is a very popular past time and is an easy way to control rabbit numbers when the density of population is low, but is less effective in high populations.

The most popular and cost effective calibre to use is the 22 Rimfire rifle and has a range of 100 metres. It is more efficient to spotlight feral rabbits at night. As with any hunting in Australia it is important to check with the local state regulations and always carry a current firearms licence.

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