Rabbit control options

Page last updated: Wednesday, 13 November 2019 - 5:46pm

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Landholders planning to grow broadacre, horticulture or tree crops or to preserve native vegetation need to control rabbits first. This article provides information about options for rabbit control in Western Australia (WA).

Introduction

In 1859 when Thomas Austin released 24 wild rabbits on his Geelong property, he could not have foreseen that they would breed so prolifically and spread across the southern parts of the continent. Each year rabbits cause an estimated $600 million worth of damage to agriculture. They also cause serious erosion problems, prevent native vegetation from regenerating, attack domestic gardens and undermine farm sheds and other buildings.

In WA European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) are declared pests of agriculture under the Biosecurity and Agriculture Management Act 2007 and as such, landholders are required to control rabbits on their properties. Even landholders not growing crops are still legally obliged to control rabbits to protect their neighbours’ land from the impact of rabbits.

Checking rabbit activity

Areas intended for seeding, planting or conservation efforts, especially near rabbit harbourage, should be thoroughly checked. This is particularly important in areas where rabbits have previously been a problem. Rabbit activity is usually indicated by scratchings, dung heaps and active burrows or warrens. More revealing checks can be made late in the day or at night by spotlighting when rabbits are active and more observable.

Control issues

  • The key to success is persistence. One-off efforts produce only short-term results as rabbits may produce many offspring and populations can recover quickly even after successful control programs.
  • Maximum effectiveness is achieved by integrating appropriate control methods. Best control is achieved in late summer when rabbit numbers are decreasing and feed is limited.
  • District-wide campaigns can reduce the problem of re-infestation by covering a large area.
  • Sometimes it will not be possible to use poison but other methods are available (for example, fumigation, ripping.)

A ​summary table of available control options is provided at the end of this article

Baiting

Baiting is the most cost-effective way to reduce rabbit populations, particularly over large areas, but restrictions do apply.

1080 baits

Several types of 1080 (sodium fluoroacetate) rabbit bait is available. Trained landholders can purchase bait products after they have obtained Baiting Approval from an authorised officer of the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD). 1080 is quickly broken down in the environment. Many native animals have developed a high degree of tolerance to 1080. Domestic stock and pets are however very sensitive to the poison in both baits and poisoned rabbits.

Pindone baits

Pindone is an anticoagulant with an effect similar to products used in some rat poisons. It can sometimes be used near settlements where pets might be at risk from 1080, because unlike 1080, an antidote is available for pindone.

However, pindone poses a risk to native animals including kangaroos, birds of prey and perhaps bandicoots. The poison must not be used in the presence of these animals.

Warren fumigation

Rabbits use warrens as refuges and for breeding. Fumigation is the best method to use when a few rabbits live in widely scattered warrens or inaccessible areas. Fumigant tablets (commonly Phostoxin®) are placed in burrows to release poisonous phosphine gas.

Warren ripping

Areas where warrens have been destroyed by cross-ripping the soil are much less likely to be recolonised by rabbits. A tractor-mounted ripper is used to penetrate the soil to a depth of at least 60cm.

Harbourage destruction

Areas that rabbits use for harbourage/refuge include rock piles, deadfall timber and stumps, old buildings and abandoned farm machinery. Such material should be removed, buried or surrounded with rabbit-proof fences. Permission will usually be required before remnant or roadside vegetation can be cleared.

Rabbit-proof fencing

Rabbit-proof fences can be effective in preventing animals moving into or re-infesting an area. Well-maintained fences can provide a permanent solution to rabbit problems. Fencing can also be used to contain rabbits in an area where they can be more efficiently poisoned.

Myxomatosis and Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD)

These viruses have been introduced to help reduce rabbit numbers, but may be difficult to manipulate. Following up immediately with other control methods can enhance their benefits. RHD was previously known as calicivirus or rabbit calicivirus disease (RCD).

In March 2017 there was a national release of a Korean strain of Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus, known as RHDV1 K5 .This is the first time in 20 years that a new rabbit biocontrol agent has been released into Australia. The release of this new rabbit virus strain is part of a 20 year national biocontrol plan for rabbits.

RHDV1 K5 is now available as a commercial product to authorised users. The supply and use of RHDV1 K5 in WA to authorised users was enabled under the Biosecurity and Agriculture Management Regulations Amendment 2017 (Government Gazette Friday, 3 February 2017). Under the regulations, anyone who will be handling and mixing the liquid suspension virus must complete on-line training to become authorised users of RHDV. RHDV1-K5 Authorisation Training is available from DPIRD’s Client Online Training website.

Coordinated, landscape scale release of rabbit biological control viruses will maximise effectiveness and produce greater results than patchy, individual landholder releases. DPIRD recommends land managers contact their local biosecurity group before applying for the virus to coordinate a release or to determine if a release has already occurred within their area. Biosecurity group contact details are available within the online RHDV1 K5 training package. 

Other methods

Shooting and trapping can be useful additional tools when very few rabbits are present. These methods should be used legally and humanely.

Summary of options for rabbit control

Options

When to use

Cost

Advantages

Disadvantages

1080 baiting

Late summer. 
Before seeding, 
planting or 
regeneration efforts.

Most cost-effective 
method.

Large areas covered quickly. 
Most native animals tolerant 
of 1080 but can be affected if baits misused.

Foxes killed by eating poisoned rabbits.

No effective antidote. 
Livestock and pets can be at risk. 
Uneaten baits should be buried or weathered by exposure to rain. 
Dry weather required.

Pindone 
baiting

Best late summer. 
Before planting/ 
seeding.

Moderate cost.

Less hazard to domestic 
animals. 
Antidote available.

Must not be used in presence of some native animals.

Warren 
fumigation

Best late summer. 
Before planting or seeding.

Labour-intensive. 
Follow-up to ripping.

Useful if rabbits are 
underground in inaccessible
or scattered areas. 
Follow-up after baiting, 
ripping. Does not cause 
erosion.

Cannot be used where rabbits live above ground or where warrens cannot be sealed.

Warren ripping

Summer for sandy 
areas. Winter for areas with clay soils. 
Before planting or seeding.

Labour-intensive.

Good for large paddock 
infestations. 
Reduces recolonisation. 
Long-term solution.

Can cause soil erosion. 
Cannot be used in bushland as it destroys native vegetation. 
Cannot be used in some rocky country.

Harbourage 
destruction

Before planting or seeding.

Labour-intensive. 
Little value alone - 
combine with other 
methods.

Good follow-up method.

Cannot be used in all situations (e.g. native vegetation).

Rabbit-proof 
fencing

Before planting or seeding.

Very labour-intensive. 
High initial cost.

Long-term effect, stops 
reinvasion.

Needs regular checking.

Myxomatosis 
and RHD

Naturally spread.

No cost.

Effective in reducing numbers before other controls are used.

Timing and effectiveness unpredictable.

Shooting and trapping
 

Best late summer

Very labour intensive

Must be used with other 
methods, to be useful. Need permit for many trap types.

Only appropriate for low rabbit numbers. Trapping and shooting not suitable in built-up areas.

 

Further information

For further information on rabbits and rabbit control, search our website, or contact the Pest and Disease Information Service.

 

Contact information

Pest and Disease Information Service (PaDIS)
+61 (0)8 9368 3080