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Rabbits

Feral rabbits are a widespread and destructive agricultural pest that cause significant environmental and financial damage. They are widely distributed throughout Australia, except for the tropical north.

MLA is helping support the National Rabbit Biocontrol Optimisation program at the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions (CISS) which involves strengthening the pipeline of new rabbit biocontrols from within Australia and internationally.

PestSmart Connect which is powered by the CISS, provides information about European rabbits relating to their biology, ecology, impacts and best practice management.

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.

Impact of rabbits in Australia

Rabbits can affect livestock enterprises as they:

  • reduce the carrying capacity of farms by competing with livestock for feed
  • damage emerging crops
  • reduce plant biodiversity by eating seedlings and killing shrubs
  • reduce animal biodiversity by competing with native animals for food and shelter
  • contribute to soil erosion by removing plant cover.

Control methods

Australia has been investing in successful rabbit biocontrol programs for more than 70 years with the benefits estimated to be worth $70 billion.

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 such as baiting, warren ripping, fumigation, shooting and trapping are also needed to provide long-term results.

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

The PestSmart website also contains detailed Standard Operating Procedures for control methods, including:

The recording and mapping of rabbit activity via the RabbitScan app or website is encouraged. So too is recording on-farm and community control activities. This coordinated tracking approach will help improve the effectiveness of future control programs.

The website and the 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 and freeze the dead rabbit until the kit arrives.

Providing this valuable information will assist researchers with the development of future biocontrol agents, as they will understand how viruses are spreading and which ones are proving most effective in your area.