Rabbit

Native to Europe, rabbits were brought to Australia by the First Fleet as food animals, with the first feral rabbit populations recorded by the late 1820s. Later releases of rabbits for sport hunting dramatically increased the size of the feral rabbit population.

Today, rabbits are one of Australia's major agricultural and environmental pests, costing between $600 million and $1 billion annually.

Rabbits eat pasture and crops, compete with native animals, cause soil erosion, and prevent regeneration of native vegetation.

Introducing and selling rabbits in Queensland is illegal and penalties apply. Limited numbers of permits for domestic rabbits are available from Biosecurity Queensland for research purposes, public display, magic acts, and circuses. Before a permit is granted, guidelines must be met.

You can support a national rabbit mapping project by reporting rabbit populations.

Rabbit is a restricted invasive animal under the Biosecurity Act 2014.

If you have a pet rabbit, you can surrender it to the RSPCA  (all locations) or the Animal Welfare League who are permitted to rehome illegally kept rabbits interstate.

Scientific name

Oryctolagus cuniculus

Similar species

  • Hare

Description

  • Small, furry mammal with long ears, weight about 1.3-2.3kg.
  • Fur is usually grey-brown with pale belly; black or ginger also common.
  • Hind legs are long, front legs are short.
  • Ears are long.
  • Eyes are large.

How to distinguish a rabbit from a hare

Hares:

  • are considerably larger than rabbits with a head and body length of 55cm (40cm for rabbits)
  • are more golden-brown in colour (rabbits are greyer)
  • have relatively longer ears with distinct black tips
  • have relatively larger hind legs and can run faster
  • don't lift their tails when disturbed, so the black upper-surface is always visible (rabbits cock tails and show white under-surface as a general alarm signal - often seen when rabbits are scuttling for shelter)
  • tend to lead solitary lives except when breeding (rabbits live in groups).

Habitat

  • Creates warrens where soil is easy to dig.
  • Occupies tussock grasses and areas littered with fallen timber.
  • Also lives in and under buildings, in old machinery and storage containers, and in old waste facilities.

Distribution in Queensland

  • Rabbits are spread throughout Queensland, with high populations in Granite Belt and south-west; moderate populations in Maranoa, southern Warrego and north Burnett, and on Atherton Tableland and south-west and north-west Darling Downs; and isolated populations in remainder of state.
  • Rabbit distribution correlates with soil types, especially types suitable for burrowing.
  • Above Tropic of Capricorn, rabbits are at edge of their range and populations generally expand and contract according to season. However, rabbit numbers are increasing on Atherton Tableland.
  • Rabbit numbers dramatically declined following release of Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus, but have since increased in areas where effective follow-up measures (e.g. warren destruction) were not adequately practised.

Life cycle

  • Female rabbits can have up to 5-6 litters in a good breeding season, producing average of 3-4 kittens per litter.
  • Litters of up to 8 kittens are possible for older females, depending on food quantity and quality.
  • Gestation period is 28-30 days.
  • Breeding can commence from 4 months.

Crops affected

  • Pasture, horticulture, forestry seedlings.

Impacts

Environmental

  • Degrades native vegetation by eating seedlings, preventing vegetation from regenerating.
  • Degrades soil through overgrazing.
  • Degrades water through overgrazing (secondary to soil erosion).
  • Competes with native animals for food and space.
  • Provides food for predator species, changing their population dynamics.
  • Affects birds, mammals and insects that rely on plants.
  • Control measures such as warren ripping and harbour destruction can also have adverse environmental effects.

Economic

  • Contributes to total grazing pressure on pastures.
  • Reduces pasture production, including reserves for dry seasons, which also reduces livestock and wool production.
  • Reduces quality of pasture.
  • Reduces crop production and product quality.
  • Feral populations are expensive to control.

Social

  • Damages infrastructure, gardens and buildings.
  • Reduces amenity and landscape values.
  • Reduces incomes to rural households.

Natural enemies

  • Cats, dogs, foxes, large birds, snakes, humans.

Control

Integrated control

  • An integrated control approach, combining different control methods (e.g. destroying rabbit warrens, baiting, rabbit-proof fencing, fumigation, trapping and shooting) with land management practices is most effective.
  • Destroying rabbit’s home (e.g. warren) is most effective method for long-term control.
Warren ripping
  • Ripping is successful because warrens can rarely be reopened and rabbits are unable to recolonise these areas.
  • Chase as many rabbits as possible inside warren. Dogs can be used to drive rabbits into warren before ripping starts.
  • Use tractor with tyned (sharp-pronged) implement, one tyne or many, that rips through warren and collapses it. Larger tractors and dozers are more appropriate for properties with many warrens as they can move faster and rip wider.
  • Rip all warrens within 1km of permanent water.
Harbour destruction
  • Where there is abundant surface harbour, high proportion of rabbits may live above ground rather than in underground warrens. Rabbits can make homes in windrows, dense shrubs (e.g. blackberries, lantana), old machinery.
  • To eliminate above-ground breeding areas, you may need to:
    • burn windrows and log piles
    • remove weeds through chemical and physical control
    • remove objects from paddocks.
  • Removing harbour may expose warrens underneath, which will also need to be ripped.

Poison baiting

  • Baiting alone is not effective and will not eradicate rabbit population.
  • Rabbits can also become ‘bait shy’ so that this method becomes less effective over time. Ideally, baiting is best used either before ripping/fumigation to reduce a population, or after ripping/fumigation as a ‘mop-up’.
  • Baiting works best when rabbits are not breeding.
1080-sodium fluouroacetate
  • The use of 1080 is subject to regulatory control set down in the Health (Drugs and Poisons) Regulation 1996 and can only be supplied by approved DAF or local government officers for the purpose of controlling invasive animals. Your local biosecurity officer or local government office should be able to assist you.
  • Pre-feeding is required when using 1080 because rabbits will not readily take new feed. Poison-free bait should be laid at least 3 times over 1 week before poisoned bait is laid. (1080-impregnated carrot baits are the most common form of bait used.)
Pindone
  • Pindone is an anticoagulant registered for rabbit control. This poison works by preventing blood from clotting. In Queensland, it is not recommended for broadacre use and is mainly used in urban areas and near farm buildings.
  • Pindone works best when given as a series of small doses/feeds over 3 days. Although pre-feeding is not essential, it does enhance bait uptake by shy rabbits, which get used to feed prior to poison bait being laid. To be effective, pindone requires multiple feeds so that poison can build up to fatal levels in rabbit’s body. Feeding over a number of nights provides plenty of opportunity for most of the rabbit population to consume the required lethal dose. Rabbits poisoned with pindone usually die in 10-20 days.
  • Pindone baiting does not work well when lots of green pick exists for rabbits.

Fumigation

  • Fumigation is labour-intensive, time-consuming, and generally ineffective if used alone. However it may be a good alternative as a ‘mop-up’ technique or a control method in areas where ripping is not practical (e.g. steep and rocky terrain).
  • For best results, fumigation should be carried out in 2 stages - initially, before breeding season starts (to reduce breeding stock) and again during breeding season.

Biological control

  • Myxomatosis and rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV) need to be incorporated into a management strategy with other control techniques.
Rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus (also known as rabbit calicivirus disease)
  • RHDV is a virus specific to rabbits, which works by infecting lining of throat, lungs, gut and liver.
  • RHDV relies primarily on direct rabbit-to-rabbit contact to spread. Therefore, high rabbit numbers are needed before this control method will be effective.
Myxomatosis

Myxomatosis is no longer produced as a laboratory strain. But field strains are still known to recur and affect rabbit populations.

Trapping

  • Trapping is extremely labour-intensive, and requires a skilled operator to set the traps to successfully capture rabbits.
Cage trap
  • Has lever that closes cage when rabbit steps on it. Rabbits are lured into cage with bait - usually diced carrot. Traps need to be disabled and left open for 2-3 nights with bait leading into cage. This entices rabbits to enter. Trap can be set once rabbit has consumed trail of bait all the way into trap. Traps should be checked and emptied regularly - usually 2 times per night.
Barrel trap
  • Designed specifically for rabbits. Cylindrical, made of light mesh, about 1m long and 15cm diameter. Trap has 1 open end with 2 hinged trapdoors along side. Open end is placed in burrow, hinged gates close and trap rabbit after it enters from burrow.
  • Trap can be left in burrow entrance for number of days. However, must be checked at least daily so that any caught rabbit does not suffer and animal welfare responsibilities are met.
Exclusion fencing
  • Built to keep rabbits out of particular area. Appropriate for small, high-value areas that require protection. Fully fenced area will only remain rabbit-free if all rabbits are removed from enclosed area after fencing and fence is regularly maintained and checked for holes.
  • Rabbit-proof fence should be made of wire mesh netting (40mm or smaller) and at least 900mm high. Netting should also be buried to depth of at least 150mm. Gates into fenced area also need to be rabbit-proof.
  • Electric fencing is cheaper alternative, but is not complete physical barrier and is also prone to damage from other pest animals and stock.
Shooting
  • Shooting is most useful when used to ‘mop up’ after other control methods (such as ripping). For best results, shoot when rabbits are active. This is usually early morning, late afternoon or night. Best and most economical firearm is a .22 calibre rifle.
  • If your property is within an urban area, you will need to comply with local government regulations and the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000, which restrict the use of firearms.

See the Rabbit fact sheet (PDF, 2.1MB) for more information on control.

Legal requirements

  • Rabbit is a restricted invasive animal under the Biosecurity Act 2014.
  • It must not be kept, moved, fed, given away, sold, or released into the environment without a permit.
  • The Act requires everyone to take all reasonable and practical steps to minimise the risks associated with invasive plants and animals under their control. This is called a general biosecurity obligation (GBO).
  • At a local level, each local government must have a biosecurity plan that covers invasive plants and animals in its area. This plan may include actions to be taken on certain species. Some of these actions may be required under local laws. Contact your local government for more information.

More information