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Feral Friday: reporting back on rabbits

12 September 2019

Over the next month, Friday Feedback is putting the spotlight on invasive animals and the tools available to help manage them. This week’s focus is on rabbits.

To ensure a coordinated approach to ethical pest control, MLA’s investment in this area is largely through its support of the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions.

  Fast facts

  • European rabbits are Australia’s most widespread and destructive environmental and agricultural vertebrate pest.
  • Rabbits arrived with the First Fleet, but their spread took off in the mid-1800s after being released in Victoria for hunting.
  • The rabbit’s rate of spread in Australia was the fastest of any colonising mammal anywhere in the world.

Industry action

Australia has been investing in successful rabbit biocontrol programs for more than 70 years, with benefits estimated at $70 billion:

  • 1950 – release of myxoma virus
  • 1996 – release of first rabbit calicivirus (RHDV1 – Czech strain)
  • 2017 – release of Korean strain of calicivirus (RHDV1 K5)
  • 2018 – investigation of RHDV2 (exotic calicivirus strain discovered in Australia in 2015) and its potential to complement and boost impact of existing strains.

Biological control is by far the most cost-effective large-scale management option to stay on the front foot with rabbit control, but it can’t be relied on in isolation.

The viruses and their hosts constantly co-evolve, so conventional control methods – baiting, warren ripping, fumigation, shooting, trapping – are also needed to provide long-term results.

Download PestSmart’s Glovebox Guide for Managing Rabbits to help plan your rabbit control strategy.

Report your rabbits using RabbitScan

Producers are encouraged to record and map rabbit activity, plus on-farm and community control activities, via the rabbit section of the FeralScan app or website: feralscan.org.au/rabbitscan

This will help improve the effectiveness of future control programs.

The website or app can also be used to report evidence of potential rabbit disease in your area via the Rabbit Biocontrol Tracker. If you find a dead rabbit you suspect has died from a virus, record the details on the app, request a sample kit, then freeze the dead rabbit until the kit arrives.

This will help researchers understand how viruses are spreading and which ones are proving most effective in your area, providing valuable information to help them get the most out of current and potential future biocontrol agents.