Time to start planning for rabbit control programs


By Stephen Wilson
Senior Biosecurity Officer

P: 02 6051 2215 | M: 0427 362 618 | E: stephen.wilson@lls.nsw.gov.au

Rabbit in green grass

Despite the release of the rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV1 K5) across the Local Land Services Murray region in 2017, rabbit numbers have increased significantly in some areas.

With good rains and an abundance of feed over most of our region, rabbit numbers have been increasing. Considering that nine rabbits are the equivalent of one dry sheep, it's time to start planning your rabbit program!

When considering a program, it is important to use a combination of control techniques. Control programs that simply repetitively poison year after year without undertaking other forms of control are unlikely to be successful.

With the ongoing rain across parts of the region, there has been plenty of green feed and it has been difficult to start a rabbit poisoning program. However, landholders can still prepare by talking to their local Biosecurity Officer about a plan for reducing rabbit numbers. This way you will be ready to start as soon as it is suitable.

The most effective control programs should aim to eliminate all rabbits, warrens, burrows and harbours. In order to achieve this, the following steps should be followed:

Step 1. Initial Reduction

When rabbit densities are medium to high, it is important to reduce numbers to a manageable level.  This initial reduction is often best achieved through a poisoning program in late summer or early autumn before the breeding season commences.  Rabbits will find and eat the bait material more readily if poisoning is carried out in areas where feed is minimal, which has been a challenge so far this summer. The type of poison used for such programs is often determined by legislation set out in the relevant Pesticide Control Order or individual landholder preference. It is best to discuss these options with an LLS Biosecurity Officer.

Step 2. Extensive Control 

If rabbit numbers are low, control programs can commence at this stage.  The main objective of this phase is to reduce the population further so that it cannot quickly recover.  It is during this period harbour destruction is undertaken. This is best achieved through deep ripping or blasting of warrens and burrows, fumigation and removing fallen timber and blackberries.

Before undertaking any ripping or fumigation work, the area should be ‘dogged’ in order to drive rabbits underground. Destroying rabbits without destroying their homes only gives short term protection.  The old saying “the rabbit makes the warren, but the warren makes the rabbit” is very true!

Step 3. Advanced follow-up

If the first two steps have been implemented correctly, it is likely that the level of infestation will be quite low. It is at this stage that follow-up control methods can be undertaken, such as shooting, dogging, further harbour destruction and ripping/fumigation of warrens and burrows. If this part of the program is implemented and maintained, it is likely that the rabbit population will be eradicated or remain low.

A property inspection should be undertaken at least once each year in order to prevent a resurgence of rabbits back into the treated areas. Remember, the success of a control program is not determined by the number of rabbits killed, but rather by the number of rabbits that survive! Get them down and keep them down – it’s the cheapest option in the long run.

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