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Rabbit damage - an overview

Rabbits are one of Australia’s most widespread and destructive environmental and agricultural vertebrate pests. They cause over $200 million damage to Australia’s agricultural and pastoral industries each year through lost production, and cause unmeasured environmental damage and social problems. They also require a high level of management, and farmers, governments and communities need to come together to manage the problems they cause and prevent their further spread.

Agricultural pest

Australian farmers and primary producers have recently experienced over a decade of drought in many areas, and rabbits are just another problem they must contend with. Rabbits cause agricultural damage and productivity losses by:

  • Competing with livestock for pasture
  • Preventing grasses and ground covers
  • Causing soil erosion by digging and grazing plants to very low levels
  • Promoting the colonisation and spread of agricultural weeds.
  • Supporting foxes that also prey on newborn lambs
  • Grazing and browsing crops, plantation seedlings, nursery plants, and revegetation areas
  • Causing problems in horticultural and commercial nurseries, where browsing of plants and new growth costs millions of dollars damage annually.

Environmental pest

Rabbits are a major environmental pest and have contributed to the loss or decline or many native animal and plant species. Rabbits cause damage to the environments by:

  • Out-competing native wildlife for food and shelter
  • Browsing and grazing native vegetation to low levels
  • Causing soil erosion and contributing to land degradation over vast land areas
  • Ring-barking trees and shrubs and causing die-back
  • Preventing regeneration of native plants by eating seedlings, even at very low rabbit densities
  • Promoting and spreading weeds
  • Supporting introduced predators such as foxes and feral cats that also prey on native wildlife.

Rabbits also pose a threat to a large number of threatened native flora and fauna species. They adversely affect at least 156 threatened native species – consisting of 13 mammals, 19 birds, 2 reptiles, 121 plants, and 1 known insect species. Rabbits are particularly problematic on islands, especially where predators are scarce. They can even threaten colonies of seabirds.

Through long-term land degradation and plant browsing, rabbits can signficantly impact on native flora and fauna.

Urban pests

Even in urban areas and our cities, rabbits cause problems. They cause problem in urban areas by:

  • Damaging residential gardens, ornamential gardens and vegetable growing
  • Damaging the foundations of buildings
  • Excavating soil and undermining structures such as sheds
  • Cause damage to golf courses and landscaped gardens, and
  • Cause problems in cemeteries where they dig burrows.

National Rabbit Threat Abatement Plan (TAP)

The damage rabbits cause to the environment is so significant that “competition and land degradation by rabbits” is listed as a key threatening process and a national Threat Abatement Plan (TAP) has been developed to help communities to manage the environmental problems caused by rabbits. The Threat Abatement Plan aims to reduce the impact of rabbits on native wildlife by guiding landholders and communities to:

  1. implement rabbit control in areas of high conservation priority
  2. encourage the use of innovative and humane rabbit control methods
  3. improve training and participation in control activities
  4. collect and share information to improve our understanding of rabbits, impacts and control methods.

RabbitScan aims to support these goals. For more information about the Rabbit TAP, visit: http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/tap/rabbits08.html

To read more about the serious damage rabbits cause, go to:

Species profile: http://www.feral.org.au/feral-species/rabbit/
Rabbit fact sheet: http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/invasive/publications/pubs/rabbit.pdf
Managing Vertebrate Pests – Rabbits: http://www.daff.gov.au/brs/land/feral-animals/species/rabbits
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