Integrated rabbit control
In Victoria, feral or wild populations of European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) are declared as established pest animals under the Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994 (CALP Act)
Under the CALP Act all landowners have a responsibility to take all reasonable steps to prevent the spread of – and as far as possible eradicate – established pest animals from their land.
Rabbits are one of Australia's most serious pest animals as they:
- destroy pasture, crops and plant communities that impacts agriculture and the environment
- cause soil erosion and associated sedimentation of waterways
- compete with native fauna for food and habitat
- are well suited to Australian conditions and breed prolifically.
Between 2013 and 2014 rabbits were estimated to have an annual economic impact of over $113 million dollars nationally.
Established Invasive Animals Best Practice Management video series
1. Rabbit control in Victoria
Hi, I'm Alex Pattinson, Leading Biosecurity Officer with Agriculture Victoria. Rabbits are one of the most destructive invasive species in Australia. This video gives an overview of the species and the management techniques landowners can use to control them.
The first successful attempt to establish wild populations of rabbits in Australia occurred in the late 1850s. By the 1920s, rabbits had colonised most of Southern Australia, making them one of the fastest spreading invasive mammals anywhere in the world.
Understanding basic rabbit biology and ecology helps you to identify the weaknesses that may be exploited in your control program for better results. rabbits are mostly active from late afternoon to the early morning, often emerging from their war in a few hours before sunset. They gradually graze further from it as it gets darker. Rabbits are shy feeders, and are often wary of new things in their environment. They also prefer to eat plants with the highest nutritional value. Rabbits also have a high reproductive capacity enabling them to recover quickly from poor seasonal conditions, disease outbreaks, and control efforts. One reason for their high reproductive capacity is their ability to dig extensive burrows or warrens. The Warren is the key to success of rabbits in Australia as it protects them from predators and weather extremes. Warrens are essential for breeding as rabbit kittens cannot survive the harsh Australian climate without shelter.
It's well known that rabbits have had a disastrous impact on Australia's economy and natural environment. It's estimated that rabbits cost Australian agriculture more than $200 million in lost production each year. To put the impacts of rabbits into perspective, seven rabbits account for one dry sheep equivalent. Rabbits selectively feed on certain species of plants, which affects the regeneration and recruitment, which changes landscapes over time. Rabbits also compete with native wildlife for food and habitat, and their excessive grazing habits often lead to soil erosion and reduced water quality.
Identifying rabbit activity on your property is the first step in managing this invasive species. Key signs of rabbits include 45 degree cuts on seedlings, rabbit dung, warren and burrow entrances, grazing lines, scratching and ring barking. Familiarise yourself with these signs and keep a lookout when monitoring your property.
Once you've identified rabbit activity, activity on your property or in your area, there's several things you can do. Perhaps the most important thing to remember is the warren is the key to the rabbit's survival. So if you remove the warren, you also remove the rabbit's ability to breed, reestablish numbers and rebound populations. It's important to use the season and climate to your advantage when selecting the timing of your control program as it will increase the effectiveness. The timing of when to use various control methods will be discussed in specific videos in this series.
There is a scientifically proven series of steps you can follow to manage rabbit populations, and it is often referred to as 'The Rabbit Recipe'. The steps include, monitor and coordinate your efforts with your neighbours. Reduce numbers which is best achieved by baiting. Destroy their harbour by ripping warrens, and removing above ground shelter, where applicable. Follow up when needed by reripping or fumigating any warren reopenings. Continue to monitor your property and react when needed. The best time to implement these control methods are summer break for baiting when other feeds are scarce, ripping immediately following baiting in the summer break when soils are friable and the warrens will collapse. Fumitigation to occur as follow up to ripping in the autumn and winter months. We'll provide more detailed information about each method in other videos in this series.
Rabbits are a major issue for landholders across Victoria. Their ability to reproduce quickly means they can also recover quickly after control if it's not done properly. Long-term control is possible if you use the right techniques at the right time and to the right standards. I encourage you to watch the other videos in this series for more detail on the methods I've mentioned. You can also find more information at the Agriculture Victoria website or contact the Customer Service Centre if you have any questions. Enjoy the videos, we hope you find them helpful. And thank you for playing your part in managing invasive animal species.
Rabbit biology and behaviour
Before designing your rabbit control program, it is important to understand rabbit behaviour and ecology. The following should be considered:
- Rabbits have a hierarchy, where dominant males mate with dominant females.
- Non-dominant rabbits often disperse to seek alternative feeding areas and colonise/establish other warrens.
- Rabbits are naturally wary of new things in their environment, so free feeding is essential part of baiting programs.
- Rabbits are prolific breeders, that can produce numerous litters per year. A pair of rabbits can turn into over 180 rabbits in just 18 months.
- Breeding is often triggered by active growth which often occurs during the wetter months.
- Survival of young is far more successful when rabbits have burrows and warrens for shelter/protection.
- The destruction of warrens is the key to achieving long-term rabbit control.
Managing rabbits on your property
Points to remember:
- Effective rabbit control requires an integrated approach using combination of control measures (not just one).
- It is also important to work with your neighbours, rather than individual properties.
- A single pair of rabbits can lead to re-infestation that may undermine your control work and investment.
- Be aware native wildlife may also be using rabbit harbour. Ensure your rabbit control program doesn't affect them.
- If the intended rabbit control work may result in disturbance of native vegetation, culturally significant areas and waterways, contact should be made with the responsible authorities prior to works being conducted. The responsible authorities may include local government, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Aboriginal Affairs Victoria or the local Registered Aboriginal Party, and the local Catchment Management Authority.
- If you are planning to use dogs as part of your control works, be mindful that there are specific requirements for the use of dogs for hunting. Under Section 28 of the Domestic Animals Act 1994, a person must not set or urge a dog to attack, bite, rush at or chase any animal except when hunting in accordance with the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 (POCTA). Refer to the POCTA Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals in Hunting for specific information on the use of dogs in hunting.
- If you are planning to use chemicals to control rabbits, all applicable requirements of the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals (Control of Use) Act 1992 and Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals (Control of Use) Regulations 2017 must be met. This includes adhering to the directions for use on the chemical label, keeping the relevant chemical use records and only using 'restricted use chemicals' if you hold the required Agricultural Chemical User Permit or other relevant permit. Chemical use record sheets and further information regarding agricultural chemical use can be found on the Agricultural Chemicals page.
Planning your program
Good planning is essential for maximising the effectiveness of your rabbit control program, while minimising impact on other animals. Consider rabbit density, distribution and habitat as this will determine what actions are appropriate.
The following steps will help when planning.
The best results are achieved when neighbours work together to control rabbits across a landscape, rather than on individual properties. Talk to your neighbours and local Landcare group to work out a coordinated plan.
Identify and map rabbit feeding and activity areas throughout your property. Rabbits are often found around:
- rocky outcrops,
- wood heaps,
- fence lines,
- weedy areas.
Assess rabbit activity on your property by spotlighting with a powerful torch or spotlight. Also map warren locations and other signs of rabbit activity. It is also important to identify and map areas where non-target species may be at risk.
Establishing a benchmark of rabbit numbers, and damage, before undertaking rabbit control will help gauge effectiveness of your control program later.
Use the information you have gained from monitoring to:
- target your control effort
- monitor the progress and success of your control program
- adapt and improve your program.
It is important to continue to monitor rabbit numbers/damage after your control program so you can treat any re-infestations.
Established Invasive Animals Best Practice Management video series
02. Monitoring pest animals in Victoria - make it part of your plan
Hi, I'm Jason Wishart. Biosecurity manager with the Established Invasive Animals Team at Agriculture Victoria. In this video, we're going to look at monitoring and why it should be included in your integrated pest management program. Monitoring is often overlooked in pest management programs because it's often seen as a waste of time and money, but this couldn't be further from the truth. Monitoring helps to measure pest damage and abundance, identify hotspots or high use areas in the landscape, confirm if non-target species are present, select the right control tools, ensure your program is having the intended impact, and it allows you to make changes to improve your program.
Two types of monitoring are used to monitor pest management programs, including performance monitoring and operations monitoring. Performance monitoring looks at the impact of your pest management program on the pest animals and their damage. While operations monitoring focuses on the efficiency of your program to ensure that the cost don't outweigh the benefits.
Monitoring can be time consuming, so it's important to be clear about what you want to monitor, when it should be monitored, and how often to confirm you are meeting the project objectives. A range of performance monitoring techniques can be used to monitor pest animals and their damage. They include camera trapping, spot lighting and thermal imagery, activity plots. And you may also record lambing rates or crop yields or look at the response of threatened species populations to your program. No matter what technique you choose, it must be undertaken consistently in terms of site, location, duration, equipment, and personnel. So the results are comparable. Now I'm going to briefly discuss each of the more common monitoring techniques used to measure performance.
In this part of the video, I'm going to run through some of the basics for using activity plots to monitor pest animal populations. So I've got one set out here. Essentially what you need to do is make sure that your plot covers the entire road so that the fox or wild dog can't step around your plot. They've got to actually walk through it. The other thing you need to do is make sure that the plot itself is wide enough, so they don't just jump over. It also needs to be at least a metre in width. And then also you need to set these up at a number of different locations along the property and quite clearly throughout the property so that you get a good representation of fox abundance. Because if you only do one or two plots, it's not really going to give you a good indication. So yeah, making sure that they're at regular intervals and there's enough to cover your property to get good numbers. And then the other thing that's important to do as well is to run it over several nights because on one night there might be a high level of activity that's unusual for some reason, or there might be low levels. So if you've done it over three nights, you can get that average and use that. And then after your control program, you can measure again and compare the same with the same. So it's got to be comparable, making sure that you've done everything in the same way and using the same number of nights and those sorts of things. So when you've set your plot, so this is when you've, you're just setting up, you've, you've created your plot. You make sure that the sand here is all nice and soft. So we've already pre-done one here, but what you can also use is a, is a bag of sand too. If the, if the roads are really hard or the surface that you're working on is really hard, then a, a fox print or a dog print, it won't show up. So you can add some sand to that mix or you can use your rake or a shovel and just really give it a roughing up. So it's nice and soft like you can see here. This is, is really sort of powdery now. So yeah, you set your plots up next morning, come back and have a look and, and record what you've found. And for most animal control programs, presence/absence is really all you need. So the number of plots with fox activity is sufficient. So that's, that's really basically what you have there for activity plot monitoring.
In this part of the video, I'm going to talk about how remote cameras can be used to monitor pest animal populations or even how they can be used to monitor control tools. Now there are a number of different cameras on the market. Some can take video and some can take still, it just depends on the situation and what you're hoping to achieve as to which one you might choose in those situations. There are also a number of different types of camera sets that you can use. So you can use a passive set, which essentially tries to capture the animal in the landscape doing its natural thing. So they're just passively moving through the landscape. And that's generally used to get a count on population. The other thing you can do is use an active set and that's where you'd use an actual lure to bring an animal to a particular area and count them that way. And sometimes that would even be considered, well, what you would use for doing baiting and, and things like that too. Okay, so once you've found the place that you'd like to actually place your camera in the landscape, the next thing you got to think about is probably the, the camera settings and the height of the camera and the distance from, from the actual target as well. So I've got a camera here. It's one of the ones where you use quite regularly. If you are most, most likely you, you're going to be monitoring things like pigs or foxes with, with remote cameras smaller animals often a little bit more difficult to detect. So it's really important that you have them at the, at the right height. So it's essentially a camera detects the heat in movement. So you want to be able to put the camera at the same height as the centre of mass. So with a pig, it's about sort of waist, waist height, a little bit lower than waist height. And you just put it into the post at about there. And you also want to put that camera facing at about 25 degrees to the trail that you think the animal be will be walking down. If you face it at right angles, the animal will be passed before the camera triggers and takes the photo. So it's really important that you sort of angle it along that trail and make sure it, it sort of captures images as the animal walks up and along and, and past. So a little bit different if you're going to be monitoring your bait station or something like that. If it's a bait station, same thing about the height. Really important to have the height right, but the distance from the bait station might be a bit different. So for pigs for example, you might put your camera about, say, five metres away because you want to maximise that field of view and make sure that you get all the animals in the shot. The other thing are the settings on the camera itself, when you're monitoring in the landscape and having animals pass through quickly, you might have your camera set really high sensitivity. So it takes a photo quite quickly and you might take a number of shots during each trigger as well. But one thing that's really important is that no matter what sort of setup and settings that you have, they remain the same for your entire monitoring program. Because if you change the settings, you might get a different detection rate or whatever and it might give you a false reading on population declines or increases. So make sure that that's exactly the same. So if you've set it one way before you're monitoring or before your control program, make sure that they're set the same way afterwards and that you use the same locations and that you monitor for the same length of time as well. So often it's a really good idea to not just to monitor for one night or two nights, but monitor for a length of time and get an average per night per camera. That way you're results will be a lot more accurate as well. And those declines will act be actual declines and not maybe a false reading. So once you've collected your data, the next thing you need to do is, is actually analyse it. And the best way to do that in most situations, particularly for the passive monitoring where you, where getting animals moving through the landscape is to look at the number of passes per animal, per camera, per night. And you average that out over the monitoring period. That's probably the most effective way for analysing camera data. There are other ways too but for monitoring, for a pest control program that's probably the best one to use. The other thing you could potentially do if you're actually looking at visitation rate towards a feral pig bait station, for example, you might then count the number of visits rather than passes. But no matter what it is, always use the same, always analyse it the same way. Consistency is really the key for monitoring so that you're actually comparing apples with apples.
In this part of the video, I'm going to go through some of the basics for spotlight monitoring, and that's really to get an idea of the pest abundance or pest activity on your land before you do control and after you do control. So there are a few things that you got to think about with spotlighting. One thing is probably the target animal. So spotlighting works really well, I guess for rabbits and foxes and to a lesser extent, feral pigs, their eye shine's not so great and you want to have transects predetermined transects as well that you'll monitor on a regular basis. So you'll use the same transect each time. So a transect really is just a path through your property and you want to make sure that that covers a good representation of what your property actually is. So if you've got a bit of bush land and a bit of open grassland and everything else, you want to make sure that that trail that you're going to spotlight covers all of that. Another thing that you need to do is make sure that the time of the night that you do your spotlighting is consistent. The people that you used to do the spotlighting is consistent. And also the actual methodology for spotlighting is consistent. So generally you travel at a certain speed throughout your transects and you do this nice steady arc and you're looking for eye shine. So eye shine from rabbits or eye shine from foxes. To do all this though, you're going to need some equipment and that again will depend on the size of the property that you're choosing or wanting to spotlight or do your monitoring. So if it's a larger property, you might use an actual spotlight, like these are quite powerful and can shine it at a certain distance or a large distance, and you can also use them out of a vehicle. And we've got one here that we use regularly for our rabbit monitoring and it's got a purpose built spotlight cage on the back for safety purposes. The other thing you might use if your property's a little bit smaller is just simply using a torch. You want a fairly high powered torch. And again, so you know if you are using your vehicle, you travelling along at a certain distance, same when you're on foot. You travel long at that certain distance. So it wants to be nice and steady and comparable. So after you finish spotlighting the data that you want to analyse is the number of animals seen or the number of individuals seen per spotlight kilometre. So for rabbits, it'll be the number of rabbits that you saw over a spotlight kilometre and you want to compare that information, your before information to your after information, and hopefully see whether there's been a percentage knockdown. And that's basically it for spotlight monitoring.
The type of monitoring technique used will depend on the target animal, the location, and the equipment and resources available. You should also conduct monitoring over several nights during each monitoring period to allow you to calculate an average as your results will be more accurate this way. Most operations monitoring is achieved by recording the costs associated with the control program in terms of time, resources, and equipment. You may also look at the number of animals removed per technique to determine its cost effectiveness. Once you've completed your monitoring, it's also important to analyse the data. For most pest control programs data analysis does not need to be complicated. Remember, you're only trying to confirm that your management program is having their desired impact on the pest animals and their damage, and that the costs aren't outweighing the benefits. So as previously mentioned, you might calculate the average number of passes per species, per camera per night if using camera monitoring, the average number of individuals per spotlight kilometre, if using spotlighting or the average number of plots containing activity per collection period if using activity plots. Monitoring is essential for any pest management program, as it allows you to confirm if your program is meeting the objectives. And if it's not, it enables you to make changes to improve it. It also helps to avoid any non-target impacts. For further information on monitoring and control methods, please watch the other videos in this series, refer to the Agricultural Victoria website or call the Customer Service Centre. Thanks for watching.
Aim to be rabbit free
Create a detailed rabbit management plan that has specific aims and objectives to ensure the best outcomes. Eradication may not be possible in all areas, so ongoing monitoring and management is often required.
- Just one pair of rabbits can re-infest your property.
- Even low rabbit densities can seriously impact the regeneration and recruitment of sensitive plant communities.
Use the right tools
Effective rabbit management requires an integrated approach using all control tools that suit your property. Every rabbit should be exposed to as many different control tools as possible to ensure those missed with one are accounted for with another. Making your property a rabbit unfriendly environment will also help prevent re-invasion and population recovery.
Rabbit control is most cost-effective in late summer and early autumn as breeding has generally paused at this time. Biological control and naturally harsh environmental conditions can also cause added stress on the rabbit population leading to longer-lasting results.
Evaluate your success
Conduct a second round of monitoring after your control program using the same methods that you used to monitor prior to undertaking any control. This will help ensure that the results are comparable and that they are an accurate representation of damage/density declines.
- Have you destroyed all rabbit warrens and entrances?
- Are all the warren entrances closed and inactive?
- Are there still rabbits or signs of rabbit activity?
- Were the correct controls selected, applied accurately at the optimum times?
- What is working well?
- What could be improved?
- Do you need to change your plan?
Continue monitoring rabbit numbers and damage after your control program. When you see signs of rabbit activity again, implement control actions immediately.
Remember, rabbit control is time-consuming and there is no quick fix solution.
The order in which you implement each control tool is important because it maximises the effectiveness of your control program. The most effective sequence of control events is commonly referred to as the “rabbit recipe” and it is undertaken as follows:
- Allow biological control and natural mortality to reduce the rabbit population.
- Bait to reduce numbers prior to ripping.
- Remove harbour and destroy warrens (ripping).
- Follow up with fumigation and further warren destruction.
Be persistent, remain vigilant and monitor regularly.
Baiting is useful for reducing the rabbit populations prior to a warren ripping program.
Established Invasive Animals Best Practice Management video series
2. Rabbit control in Victoria - baiting
G'day, I'm Nigel Roberts, Leading Biosecurity Officer with the Established Invasive Animals team at Agriculture Victoria. In this video, I'll be showing you how to undertake a rabbit baiting program on your property. Baiting is one of the most effective ways to reduce rabbit population over large areas and should be considered as a precursor to further rabbit control based around warren destruction. Significantly reducing rabbit populations immediately before ripping will provide better long term management. It's important to remember that baiting alone will not produce long term results as the warrens remain intact and rabbits will continue to breed and reestablish populations.
There are two types of toxins that can be used to bait rabbits in Victoria. These are 1080 and Pindone. 1080 or sodium fluoroacetate is a naturally occurring compound found in some native Australian plants. As such, Australian native animals have evolved with this compound in their diet and have developed higher resistances to 1080 when compared to introduced species that are highly susceptible. Nevertheless, it is important to be extremely vigilant and aim to take all reasonable steps to mitigate risks to non-target species accessing baits. 1080 is an acute poison, which means that animals only need to access the bait on one occasion for a lethal dose. Pindone is a cumulative poison, which means you will need to lay toxic baits over three nights for toxin levels to build up to a lethal dose over time. It is often considered where 1080 is not suitable due to the delayed onset of symptoms and because it has an antidote. That said, many native and introduced species are highly susceptible to Pindone poisoning, so it's important to mitigate risks to non-target species accessing bait sites. Both 1080 and Pindone can be used to manage rabbits as shelf-stable oat baits or perishable carrot baits. Shelf-stable baits are widely available and gives flexibility with baiting timeframes around unexpected delays such as poor weather conditions. Whereas perishable baits will spoil quickly and will be need to used in a short timeframe of purchase. I'll demonstrate how to conduct baiting later in this video.
Landowners must adhere to several legal requirements when using both 1080 and Pindone bait products. All usage, notification of neighbours, transporting, safety, storage, and disposal of both products must be carried out in accordance with the product label and any other relevant state legislation. Furthermore, all 1080 use must also follow the directions for use of 1080 and PAPP bait products in Victoria. 1080 is a scheduled seven poison, so it's purchase and use is restricted to those who hold a 1080 and PAPP endorsed Agricultural Chemical Users Permit. Pindone, on the other hand, is a scheduled six poison, which means it's available for purchase and use without needing a permit.
It's important to monitor your property before undertaking a baiting program. Monitoring helps to identify where rabbits are currently active and it can be used to measure the effectiveness of your program. During monitoring, you can actively search for signs of rabbits including feeding zones, scratchings, warrens, tracks, and dung. Spotlighting is most commonly used to monitor rabbit populations and are often measured as the average number of individuals seen per kilometre. But you may also choose to use remote cameras or thermal imaging equipment. Also talk to your neighbours during this process and consider working together in a coordinated approach. In a baiting program, you may be able to share costs as well as achieving better results because landscape scale control programs are much more effective than individuals working in isolation. In the next part of the video, I'll demonstrate how to bait rabbits.
Baiting can be undertaken at any time of the year, but the best results for baiting is in the summer break, when grasses have dried off and other food sources are scarce. Baiting is worth considering as a control method to crash rabbit populations before ripping warrens. So baiting in the summer break will also mean soils are friable and warrens will have a better chance to collapse when ripped. Have your ripping contractor booked in and ready to go immediately after a baiting program has ended. Waiting too long for a contractor to arrive can provide rabbits time to breed up reducing the effectiveness of your ripping program. The summer break also coincides with a break in the breeding season, meaning young, dependent rabbits are unlikely to be abandoned in the warren by does controlled by your baiting program.
It's important to choose your baiting location carefully to ensure that you are only giving rabbits the best opportunity to access baits and not to non-target species like livestock, native marsupials, or birds. You should be removing livestock from paddocks before conducting baiting. As with most pest control baiting, it's best to bring the baits to the animals rather than trying to attract the pest animals to a particular spot. You will need to identify rabbit grazing zones as this is where you'll want to introduce your baits. So look for areas with short grazed vegetations or fresh dung or scratchings. If you conduct your monitoring in the late evening or spotlighting at night, you should be able to see where rabbits are actively grazing. It's also worth noting that rabbits will not feed in their warrens, so placing baits down the borough entrances will be a waste of your time and money. You can also consider using a remote motion activated camera to help find appropriate baiting sites.
The equipment you'll need to undertake a baiting program is a bait layer or mattock to create the furrows in the earth to lay the bait. The baits themselves in the form of shelf-stable oats or perishable carrots and ample good quality, non-toxic free feed of the same bait type you intend to use. You'll need elbow length PVC gloves and notification signs to place on all the entrances to your property to notify visitors of your baiting program. It's also a good idea to think about how you intend to dispose of any rabbits you pick up after your baiting program.
In this next part of the video, I'll be taking you through the baiting procedure. When you've completed your monitoring, you can start free feeding to train rabbits onto the bait type using non-toxic baits. Free feeding is vital for the success of your baiting program and should not be skipped. It will train shy or neophobic rabbits to the bait type, and will allow you to assess exactly how much toxic bait you will need to use. So large quantities of uneaten bait are not left after the program finishes, which will increase the risk to off-target animals. Free feed over a number of nights leading up to laying poison on your property and fine tune the bait locations each night to where rabbits are feeding. So when you lay the toxic bait, you will increase the chance of only rabbits accessing the baits. Placing free feed out in the environment on your property can be done in two ways.
If you have large areas or high rabbit numbers, you'll need a rabbit bait layer like this one. This is an Ouyen bait layer and most land care groups should have one they can loan out to members. The Ouyen bait layer has a rotating drum driven off the turn of the wheels. It has slots in the drum for the bait to fall out, which you can adjust for heavy or light applications depending on how much bait you need to put out. The bait layer also has a plough disc in the front of the rotating drum that will cut a furrow for the baits to fall into. This furrow does two things. The freshly turned soil will attract rabbits to the site, giving them a better chance to find the bait, and will also allow you to easily bury any uneaten baits after your baiting program has finished. If you don't have access to a bait layer or you're working with a small property or smaller rabbit numbers, you can cut a furrow by hand using a mattock and drop the baits in by hand. Rabbits are most active at nighttime, so place the free feed out towards the end of the day. Follow the product label instructions for how much bait to put out and match that with free feed. Revisit the bait sites each morning to assess the uptake and increase the amount of free feed until you have some remaining the next morning. Rabbits will form strict social hierarchies and dominant males won't allow subordinates to feed if baits are concentrated in one area, so it's better to use lower bait rates, but over longer distances. The process of swailing bait trails through your environment ensures all rabbits will have equal access to bait. If rabbits are located on steep hillsides, it's safer to place bait trails at the top and the bottom of the hill. Be mindful of the rollover risk when driving across a slope. Once you are confident that all rabbits have had access to ample free feed and you have mitigated the risk to off-target species, it's time to start laying toxic baits. Laying of toxic baits is done the same way free feed is laid. A good tip is to reduce your toxic bait rate by a third of your final free feed rate as you don't get rabbits returning to the bait trail and continuing to graze once they've consumed a lethal dose. After you've laid the toxic baits, you must come back the next morning to look for signs of rabbit activity and assess the uptake. If you are using 1080, you may find rabbit carcasses the next morning, but if you're using Pindone you'll need the rabbits to consume three doses over three nights to be lethal. Follow the advice on the product label for more information. It is also a label requirement for you to pick up and dispose of any carcasses you find and bury any uneaten bait the morning after a baiting program.
Baiting is the most effective control method for crashing rabbit populations on your land. Please adhere to all legal and safety requirements when baiting, including following the product label and the directions for use of 1080 and PAPP bait products in Victoria if required. Monitoring and free feeding will help you identify how much bait you need to use in the right areas. It will also help you identify non-target species before you start, and also train shy rabbits to eat the bait. Lay baits in freshly scratched furrow, placed in and around their feeding zones to ensure that rabbits have the best chance to find bait. Also, remember that baiting shouldn't be considered as a standalone control method. Your baiting program should be immediately followed up with warren ripping and fumigation in an integrated program to achieve long-term results on your property. We'll go into more detail on ripping and fumigation in other videos in this series. Thanks for watching, and please visit the Agriculture Victoria website or call our Customer Service Centre for more information.
Currently, there are two toxins registered for use on rabbits in Victoria including 1080 and Pindone. Pest animal bait products registered to control rabbits in Victoria are available as commercially produced shelf-stable bait oat baits or perishable carrot baits.
1080 (sodium monofluoroacetate) is a lethal poison registered to control the following species in Victoria:
- wild rabbits
- wild dogs and
- wild or feral pigs.
1080 is derived from a compound found in some Australian native plants. Therefore, some native Australian animals have a higher tolerance to 1080. Introduced species such as domestic dogs and cats, livestock and pest species such as rabbits, foxes, wild dogs and wild or feral pigs are highly susceptible to 1080 poisoning.
To purchase and use 1080 Pest Animal Bait Products in Victoria you must have either:
- an Agricultural Chemical Users Permit (ACUP) with a 1080 endorsement
- or Commercial Operators Licence (COL) with a vermin destroyer endorsement
- or hold a valid Licence To Use Pesticides (LTUP) with an authorisation for the control of pest animals.
Non-target animals may be killed if they consume 1080 bait. Therefore, livestock must be removed for the duration of the 1080 baiting program, and all uneaten and unused bait must be disposed of as per Direction for the Use of 1080 and PAPP pest animal bait products in Victoria.
1080 baiting programs should not be implemented where there is a risk to non-target wildlife.
Non-target species, such as dogs, cats and carnivores, may also be killed if if they consume rabbits poisoned with 1080, which is referred to as secondary poisoning. For this reason, all pets and working dogs should be muzzled and or restrained for the duration of the baiting program, and all rabbit carcasses must be picked up and disposed of as per the Direction for the Use of 1080 and PAPP pest animal bait products in Victoria.
Anyone considering implementing a 1080 baiting program must read and adhere to the product label and Directions for the Use of 1080 and PAPP pest animal bait products in Victoria.
Read more about Victoria's 1080 pest animal bait system.
Pindone is a first-generation anticoagulant poison that has been used to control rabbits in Australia since the 1980s.
Pindone is often used where 1080 is either impractical or unsuitable. This is because of the delayed onset of pindone (anticoagulant) poisoning, and because there is an effective antidote for anticoagulant poisoning (vitamin K1), which is not the case for 1080.
Pindone works by blocking the vitamin K cycle and disrupting the blood’s ability to clot. It is most effective when it is offered to rabbits in multiple feeds, spaced several days apart, rather than in a large single dose. The delayed onset of symptoms is one of the key reasons for the success of anticoagulants such as Pindone, because it overcomes bait shyness that can occur with acute toxins.
Preparation and planning for baiting
When planning your control program, you must know:
- density and distribution of rabbits on your property and adjoining properties
- if rabbits are moving across your boundaries
- the types of harbour rabbits are using
- where the rabbits are feeding
- what non-target animals are present (native/domestic) and whether they may eat poison bait or poisoned rabbit carcasses.
When to bait
Rabbits can be poisoned whenever they will readily take oat or carrot bait. As such, most rabbit poisoning occurs in the late summer and early autumn period because:
- myxomatosis, RHD and natural mortality have reduced rabbit numbers
- feed is at a minimum and rabbits are foraging for food
- rabbits are old to enough to emerge from the burrow (21 to 25 days) and be exposed to the bait
- breeding is usually over so rabbits begin to forage over larger areas.
Where to bait
Place the bait in the feeding areas.
Most rabbits feed within 25 m of the burrow. Rabbit feeding areas are characterised by:
- short grazed vegetation
- dung heaps
It is important that all rabbits have access to poison baits, to maximise program effectiveness.
Offering free feed (non-poisoned baits) before toxic baiting is essential as it will help you:
- determine where rabbits are actively feeding
- calculate the amount of poison bait required,
- Identify whether non-target species may be at risk
- familiarise with the bait substrate for better poison bait uptake.
Safety is your responsibility, and you must keep children, livestock, dogs and other animals away from baits and poisoned carcasses to reduce the chance of off-target poisoning. You may also consider muzzling your dogs to further protect them in poisoning programs.
Always adhere to the product label and the Directions for use of 1080 and PAPP bait products in Victoria (if using 1080 baits) for all transport, storage, usage, safety directions and disposal procedures.
Trail baiting method
A trail is a furrow cut into the ground that is approximately 2 cm deep and 10 cm wide. The trail can be cut using:
- a hoe
- a disc pulled behind a vehicle
- purpose-built baitlayer.
Bait (cut carrots/oats) is laid into the trail, firstly as free feed and later as poisoned bait. The freshly turned earth helps identify where bait has been laid and it attracts rabbits to the trail.
Bait laying equipment for poisoning programs can be obtained or hired from most Landcare groups, some equipment hire firms and some pest control contractors.
Perishable carrot baits
Pre-mixed Pindone or 1080 perishable carrot baits can be ordered from some pest control contractors and farm suppliers. It is essential to use good quality bait material. Best results are achieved with quality fresh carrots, so they should be offered to rabbits the same day they are cut. Feeding at dusk also ensures the carrots don't dry out in the sun and reduces potential harm non-target animals.
Shelf stable oat baits
Pre-mixed Pindone or 1080 oat baits can be purchased from some pest control contractors and farm suppliers. It is essential to use good quality bait material and oats must be clean and free of impurities.
The baited area, and surrounding areas, must be thoroughly searched for dead rabbits during baiting.
Carcasses and uneaten baits must be disposed of according to the product label and the Directions for use of 1080 and PAPP bait products in Victoria (if using 1080).
Ripping to destroy warrens
Some areas are more suitable for rabbit warrens than others with rabbits often preferring soils that well drained and easy to dig.
Granitic and sandy soils are particularly suitable, but they are also highly erodible, so precautions are necessary when undertaking earthworks.
Ripping is essential as it destroys the warrens where rabbits live and shelter from the weather elements and predators. A rabbit control program will fail unless all burrows and other harbour are destroyed.
Established Invasive Animals Best Practice Management video series
3. Rabbit control in Victoria - ripping
G'day, I'm Nigel Roberts, Leading Biosecurity Officer with the Established Invasive Animals team at Agriculture Victoria. In this video, I'll be walking you through the steps to conduct a rabbit warren ripping program to control rabbits on your property. Warren ripping is the best way to achieve long term rabbit control because when you target the warren, you remove the rabbit's ability to effectively breed, reestablish, and rebound.
Before you conduct a ripping program, you must be aware of certain legal considerations. Assess that you are not disturbing any culturally significant areas as causing harm to an aboriginal place can carry large penalties. Certain situations will also require relative permits to remove native vegetation or conduct ripping works on waterways. And you should always use the Dial Before You Dig service to find any services in your project area before you start. If you don't have the machinery yourself, please employ an experienced machine operator.
It's important to monitor your property before undertaking a ripping program. Monitoring helps to identify where all rabbit warrens are located and will help you confirm that the warrens are being used by rabbits and not native wildlife. During this time, you can look for footprints, scratchings, dung and fur and signs of damage. Greatest success is achieved by removing all the warrens in a short period of time as opposed to spread out over a number of breeding events. So ensure you are thorough in your search and you find all warrens. Most ripping contractors will have GPSs in their machines, so marking warren locations with a GPS waypoint and providing that data to contractors will help them find the quickest path to rip every warren. Monitoring should always be used in any rabbit management program to measure its effectiveness. We have a separate video you can watch on how to effectively conduct a monitoring program. In the next part of the video, I'll talk about the warren ripping process.
The first thing you need to think about is timing. You can undertake ripping at any time of the year, but it is most effective when rabbit numbers are low. If you have high rabbit numbers, you should consider conducting a baiting program to reduce numbers immediately prior to ripping. Baiting is best conducted in the summer break when other food sources are scarce and ripping immediately after provides great results, as soils are, friable and warrens will be easier to rip and will have better chance to collapse. We cover the process for conducting a rabbit baiting program in another video in this series. It is also worth considering talking to and coordinating control efforts with neighbours. As landscape scale control programs have far more success than individuals working in isolation.
To undertake warren ripping, you'll need a bulldozer or excavator or maybe both, depending on the landscape and the terrain of your property. The bigger the machine, the deeper they will be able to rip and the more effective they will be at completely collapsing warrens. Dozers are generally quicker and they can rip larger areas as they usually operate with two or three tynes located at the back of the machine. They also have a lower centre of gravity than excavators, so can work in steeper terrain. Excavators are better for ripping warrens in heavy vegetation, rocky out crops, and around farm infrastructure as they are more maneuverable and the single time at the front can operate around and under obstacles. Although it can be a large upfront cost when using large machinery, the benefit for effective long-term rabbit control can pay for itself in just a few years. These benefits are even greater when you work with your neighbours to share costs and cover larger areas.
It's a good idea to employ a spotter to work in front of the machine to mark out the warren entrances with flags or landscape chalk. This will help the machine operator make sure parts aren't missed as the view from the inside of the cabin is quite limited. The spotter can also check warrens immediately after they have been ripped to ensure the job has been successfully completed. Rip lines should be no more than 50 centimetres apart and operators should take time to cross rip if safe to do so. Cross ripping involves making a second series of rip lines at right angles to the first. The operator should also make sure that rip lines reach a depth of at least 50 centimetres and deeper if possible, the deeper the better. Use your judgement based on the soil type and the height of the water table. Or you can ask the machine operator to dig a trench across the first warren to see how deep you should rip before you start. Warrens should also be ripped four metres beyond the extent of the outer entrances. These steps will maximise the chance of fully collapsing the warren. Finally ripped warrens should be then back bladed and track rolled to leave a flat and compacted surface. This makes sure the warren site is less attractive for outside rabbits to return and dig back in, and also helps to reduce soil erosion. Shortly after your ripping program has been completed, it's important to revisit all of the rip sites to fumigate any warrens that may have reopened or re-rip if there are a number of large reopenings. We will cover the fumitigation process in another video in this series.
Ripping is the most effective method at destroying rabbit warrens. Targeting the warrens will break the rabbit breeding cycles allowing you to achieve long term control. You should consider baiting to reduce rabbit numbers immediately before a ripping program to increase the effectiveness of control. Consider working with your neighbours as you may be able to share the cost of employing a contractor with machinery and control programs at landscape scales have greater impact than working in isolation. Choose the right machine to give the greater chance for warrens to be destroyed and use the spotter to help guide the machine and check the success of ripping. You should continue to monitor for reopenings in the weeks and months after ripping. Please watch the other videos in this series for information on other control methods for rabbits and visit the Agriculture Victoria website or call our Customer Service Centre if you have any questions. Thanks for watching.
Before you begin:
- Make sure all rabbits are underground by running dogs over the area, or by making enough noise to flush rabbits into their warren.
- Locate, map and mark all warrens.
- Employ a spotter to direct the machine to each warren and ensure all warrens are destroyed.
- Mechanical equipment including bulldozers, excavators, backhoes and tractor-mounted rippers are highly efficient methods to destroy warren systems. Generally, bigger machines do a better job.
- A tined ripper mounted on a bulldozer, or an appropriate tractor, is commonly used to rip burrows in open areas.
- Where minimal disturbance is important, excavators, traxcavators, and backhoes are more appropriate. They can be used successfully on rocky sites, along fence-lines and where removal of woody weeds is necessary. They can also be successfully used to minimise disturbance to areas of native vegetation where warrens are interspersed with remnant vegetation.
- Digging warrens out with a shovel, mattock or pick is labour intensive and not as effective compared to mechanical ripping.
- You must rip at least four metres out from the outermost warren opening.
- Rip lines should be no more than 50 cm apart.
- Interline ripping between the rip lines after the first pass, will help destroy the warren structure.
- You must cross rip by ripping in one direction and then ripping again at an angle of 90 degrees to the original rip lines.
- Rip to a depth of at least 70 cm or deeper if possible - The deeper the ripping the better the result.
- Ripped warrens should be back bladed and track rolled to leave a flat and compacted site, which decreases its attractiveness to re-invading rabbits. It also helps compact the soil surface and reduce the risk of erosion. The site should be revegetated with appropriate vegetation as soon as possible.
Fumigation to destroy rabbits in a warren
Fumigation only works when soil moisture is high and the burrow is completely sealed.
Established Invasive Animals Best Practice Management video series
4. Rabbit control in Victoria - Fumigation
Hi, I'm Nigel Roberts, Leading Biosecurity Officer with the Established Invasive Animals team at Agriculture Victoria. In this video, I'll show you how to fumigate rabbit warrens to help control rabbit populations on your property. Fumigation is most effective when it is used as a follow up to baiting and ripping as part of an integrated program, or can be considered where ripping is not practical. However, fumigation is rarely effective if it is used on its own. As the internal structure of the rabbit warren remains intact and rabbits can easily dig back in. Please watch the rest of this video to find out how to conduct fumigation.
The most commonly used fumigant used for rabbit warrens in Victoria is aluminium phosphide. Aluminium phosphide comes in a pellet form and releases a poisonous phosphine gas when activated by moisture in the atmosphere and soil.
Landowners must adhere to a number of legal and safety requirements when fumigating rabbit warrens. First, you must possess an Agricultural Chemical Users Permit, and then usage, notification, transporting, storage, safety directions and disposal must be carried out in accordance with the product label and any other relevant state legislation. It's also important that the label states that the product can be used on rabbits as aluminium phosphide is also used as a fumigant for weevils in grain silos.
It's important to monitor your property before undertaking your warren fumigation program. Monitoring helps to identify where the warrens are located and if they are currently being used by rabbits and not native wildlife. You can confirm the warren is being used by rabbits by looking for dung, scratchings, fresh soil excavations, footprints, and signs of damage. It's always a good idea to monitor the general rabbit population before and after your program to confirm its effectiveness. In the next part of the video, I'll demonstrate the steps needed to fumigate a warren.
You can apply fumigant to a warren at any time of the year, but best results are achieved when there is moisture in the soil to create phosphine gas via chemical reaction. As mentioned earlier, fumigation should rarely be considered as a sole technique for controlling rabbits and is best employed as a follow up to warren ripping programs. Ripping is best conducted in the summer break, so follow up fumigation should occur in the following autumn and winter months. To undertake a good fumigation program, you'll need a shovel, water, newspaper, PPE; that is elbow-length PVC gloves and a full face respirator with the appropriate dust and gas canister. The Fumigant product. It's also a good idea to have a purpose built smoker and some flags for finding and marking all the warren entrances. Additionally, a funnel and pipe can help apply the tablets, but this is not required.
In this next part of the video, I'll be demonstrating how to apply the fumigant product to the warren. The aluminium phosphide tablets are applied to each warren entrance. It's important to note that the tablets will slowly start to produce phosphine gas as soon as you open the container, so it's a good idea to have all your equipment ready and the warren prepared so you can apply the tablets to the warren in the shortest time possible. Once your equipment is ready to go, make sure the rabbits are inside the warren by making a lot of noise when you approach the site. You can also use dogs to chase stray rabbits into the warren. Next, you must find all the openings or entrances to the warren. It is vital as entrances left open will allow rabbits to escape to safety as the fumigant gas dissipates. Some rabbits dig purpose-built escape holes that are only used in emergencies like escaping from predators entering the warren. These escape holes are often very small, overgrown with grass, and impossible to find with the naked eye. So to help find all entrances, you can also use a purpose-built smoker. These smokers are modified leaf blowers and work by dripping oil onto the hot exhaust to produce smoke, which is then blown down into the warren. Let the warren fill with smoke and stand back to observe where smoke is coming out of the ground. Make sure you mark all entrances so you don't forget to treat any. After you have identified all entrances, use your shovel to cut back each opening to bare earth. When you close the warren, you want a nice soil-to-soil contact to stop any fumigant gas from escaping. If you leave sticks, grasses, or rocks in the entrance, you might allow the gas to escape reducing the effectiveness of your fumigation. You should cut back all warren entrances before applying the fumigant product. When applying the fumigant product you'll want to work with the wind in your back so the fumigant does not blow back towards you. Also work moving uphill as the phosphine gas is heavier than air and will settle downhill. Always remember to read and follow the product label instructions on how to apply the product to the warren. With your PPE on, open the tablet canister away from your face and place the tablets well down the entrance to avoid accidentally covering them with the soil plug when you close the entrance. At the time of filming, the product label instructs us to apply one or two tablets to each entrance. You can use a short length of polypipe to help get the tablets further down the entrance. It's a good idea to shake the pipe to ensure the tablets aren't stuck in the end before you remove it from the warren. You can also use some slightly scrunched up newspaper to stop the soil covering the tablets, but you must ensure that this newspaper won't compromise the soil plug and allow the gas to escape. You could also wrap the tablet in moist newspaper prior to insertion in the entrance and push them down as far as possible with the handle of your shovel. After you've applied the tablets, you'll need to fill the entrance with ample soil and firm down well to ensure the phosphine gas cannot escape. It's a good idea to leave each entrance as flat as possible to discourage outside rabbits from digging back in. You'll need to continually monitor your site for any signs of rabbit activity in the days and weeks after you have finished fumigating the warren and re fumigate as needed. It can take up to five or six treatments to fully shut down a warren.
Fumigation is best used as a follow up technique after ripping warrens by helping to ensure that warrens remain closed and rabbits don't return. Fumigation is rarely effective if used on its own because the internal structure of the warren remains intact and can quickly be recolonised by outside rabbits that dig back in. Please ensure that you follow the label instructions for safety information and how to use the product. For more information about other rabbit control methods, please view the other videos in this series or visit the Agriculture Victoria website or call our Customer Service Centre for more advice. Thanks for watching.
Select a fumigant
Aluminium phosphide is the most commonly used fumigant to control rabbits – it comes in a pellet form and releases poisonous phosphine gas when activated by moisture.
Aluminium Phosphide is a Schedule 7 poison, therefore an Agricultural Chemical Users Permit (ACUP) is required to purchase and use it. Schedule 7 poisons can only be used by holder of an ACUP or under the direct supervision of an ACUP holder.
Read the label
Detailed instructions for conducting fumigation can be found on the product label and must be always adhered to. The label also includes information on personal protective equipment.
Ensure rabbits are in the warren
Fumigation will only be effective on rabbits in the warren when it is fumigated. Use dogs to roam the area to flush rabbits into the warrens prior to fumigation.
Find all entrances
Use a smoking device to locate all entrances to the warren. These can often be hired from your local Landcare group.
Clear the entrance
Cut the entrance back using a shovel to get easy access to the warren entrance and ensure effective fumigation.
Find the shallow openings to the burrows (the ones that usually cave in when you stand on them) and then dig the openings back to solid ground. This helps seal the warren during fumigation and reduces the chance of the rabbits escaping after treatment.
Apply the fumigant to each entrance as per the product label.
Seal the entrance
Seal the entrance with soil and any other appropriate material that will help prevent rabbits digging in or out. Compact and flatten the soil to reduce the likelihood of reopening.
Be careful not to cover the fumigant tablet with soil.
Treat every entrance individually
Every entrance must be treated as per product label.
Regularly check all warrens, re-treat any openings immediately.
Above-ground harbour removal
Rabbits use a variety of above ground shelter such as heaps of debris, patches of woody weeds, buildings and some forms of native vegetation. Above-ground harbour aids rabbit survival by protecting them from the elements or predators.
To limit the use of above-ground harbour:
- Trim under all hedges and thickets of scrub to remove low branches and destroy possible shelter.
- Remove prickly and woody weeds (such as gorse, boxthorn and blackberries), rubbish piles and old machinery.
- Fence off rock piles, building materials, hay bales and woodpiles or store them in a manner that does not create a hiding place for rabbits. Fence off the underneath of buildings, water tanks and other areas rabbits may hide or burrow.
- Remember fallen timber may provide harbour for rabbits and habitat for native wildlife. If you are planning to remove fallen timber you must ensure that you do not affect native wildlife.
Other management techniques
These techniques are best employed as complimentary to baiting, ripping and fumigation as part of an integrated pest management program. Using these techniques on their own will rarely achieve long term outcomes.
Established Invasive Animals Best Practice Management video series
5. Supplementary Rabbit control options in Victoria
Hi, I'm Alex Pattinson, Leading Biosecurity Officer at Agriculture Victoria. In this video, we'll look at some of the other management techniques landholders can use to help control rabbit numbers on their property. It's important to highlight that the techniques discussed in this video are considered supplementary and should be used to support an integrated management program that includes baiting, ripping, and fumigation. The supplementary techniques explored in this video have little long term impact on the rabbit population if used on their own, as the warren remains intact for breeding. They are also labour intensive to implement.
Biocontrol has been used to manage rabbits in Australia since the 1950s. Biocontrol agents used include the Myxoma virus and various forms of rabbit haemorrhagic disease, or calicivirus. While these viruses were highly successful upon their release, rabbit populations have since developed immunity or resistance, which has allowed them to bounce back. Biocontrol may be useful in some situations, particularly if it is used as a precursor to ripping if baiting cannot be undertaken.
Exclusion fencing is a non-lethal way to protect your property or specific areas of your property from rabbits. To be successful, exclusion fencing must follow strict specifications such as minimum heights and mesh sizes, as well as burying the bottom of the fence to a certain depth and having an outward facing skirt running along the ground. This type of fencing needs to be maintained regularly to ensure it remains rabbit proof. Nevertheless, fencing may be appropriate for protecting high value areas or crops.
Tree guards are mesh or plastic guards that can be used around individual plants or trees to physically prevent rabbits from chewing off stems and eating seedlings. Tree guards come in a range of sizes to suit different trees and can be useful when trying to protect smaller revegetation areas or orchards. Small tree guards are usually not effective at keeping rabbits out and can be expensive over large areas.
Ferreting is another option that is sometimes used to manage rabbits. It tends to be more of a recreational activity and has little impact on the overall rabbit population. Please consider animal welfare implications of using ferrets and make sure that any rabbits are dispatched quickly and humanely.
Shooting is a technique often used by landholders to manage rabbits, but it is really only effective when rabbit numbers are low or is a follow up to other control methods. Keep in mind, rabbit shooting requires a high level of skill and may not be suitable for all landholders. Shooting can also produce deceptive results. That is, rabbits can learn to avoid spotlights leading to a false sense of success after shooting. Continue to monitor your property after shooting and assess if follow up control methods are required.
Like shooting, trapping can be used when rabbit numbers are low. Foothold traps or confinement traps can be used to trap rabbits on private land, but all trapping of rabbits must be carried out in accordance with requirements of the Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals Act.
Using implosion to destroy rabbit warrens may be suitable for use in environmentally or culturally sensitive areas that cannot be ripped. The process collapses the warren system whilst creating minimal disturbance on the surface. Please note that implosion is expensive and a high level of care and safety is required when using this method. Only authorised contractors can use this method.
The supplementary management techniques explored are best used as part of an integrated program and should only be considered for specific circumstances. For more information, please view the other videos in this series. Visit the Agriculture Victoria website or call our Customer Service Centre for more advice. Thanks for watching.
Exclusion fencing involves constructing a fence around a rabbit-prone area to exclude rabbits. Ask for 'rabbit-proof fencing' when making enquiries as this is fencing material specifically designed for the purpose of excluding rabbits.
A minimum of 17 cm of the fencing wire netting is buried in the ground, or the lower section of the wire netting is angled to lie on the ground facing in the direction of possible rabbit entry. The wire must be held down securely with pegs, rocks or timber. The remainder of the mesh must be securely fixed to a suitable support fence so that it reaches a minimum of 88 cm above ground.
Fences are expensive and require regular maintenance to ensure there are no gaps. With proper maintenance fences should last up to 20 years.
Baiting, ripping and fumigation works need to be completed before or after you have 'rabbit-proofed' your area. Well-built and well-maintained fences can keep properties free of rabbits once successfully treated.
One consequence of such fences is that the movement of some native animals may be limited by rabbit-proof fencing.
- Use of '105 × 4 × 1.4' standard rabbit netting. That is 105 cm width 4 cm mesh diameter 1.4 mm wire diameter.
- The support fence should be able to withstand stock or native animal forces.
- Rabbit netting should be fixed so that it reaches at least 88 cm above the ground.
- Where netting is buried, it is buried to a minimum of 170 mm.
- Where netting is bent to lay on the ground surface it must be held down with pegs, rocks or timber.
- Suitable rabbit-proof gates should be placed at all breaks in the fence.
General support fencing needs:
- Use sturdy posts driven at least 45 cm into the ground (either rammed, or dug in).
- Spacing between posts and star pickets should be determined by soil type, topography and required strength of the fence.
- It is best to have fences erected by experienced or professional fencers.
Myxoma virus causes myxomatosis which is a generalised viral disease that kills European rabbits. Spread by biting insects, myxomatosis causes florid skin lesions, acute blepharo-conjunctivitis and oedematous swelling of the genital area. Myxomatosis ultimately compromises the rabbit’s immune system leading to respiratory infections that often lead to death. Myxoma Virus was trialled as a rabbit biocontrol option by the CSIRO in the late 1930s and 1940s, and was released into the feral rabbit population in the 1950s. Within months of its release, myxoma virus had knocked over 90 per cent of some rabbit populations in Australia. However, as with most viruses, it became less effective over time due to rabbits developing genetic resistance. Today Myxoma Virus affects an estimated 40 to 50 per cent of the rabbit population and it is no-longer being released to manage wild rabbits.
RHDV1, previously known as rabbit calicivirus, is a highly infectious and contagious disease of European rabbits, that is spread by flies and close contact with other infected rabbits. Rabbits infected with RHDV1 become feverish and display flu-like symptoms. Death often occurs from disseminated intravascular coagulation and necrotic hepatitis. RHDV1, , has been used as a biocontrol for rabbits in Australia since 1996. The first strain came from the Czech Republic and was extremely effective, knocking down 90 per cent of the pest rabbit population in some parts of Australia. However, rabbits began to develop a resistance to this strain and its effectiveness has declined since. A benign endemic form of calicivirus, RCV-A1, was also formally identified in 2009. Found in cooler wetter regions of Australia, RCV-A1 was providing rabbits in these areas with protection from the Czech strain of RHDV1. The Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre and its collaborators commenced the RHD Boost project to identify a new strain of RHDV with superior performance in wetter and cooler areas and that could overcome the genetic resistance. A strain from Korea (RHDV1 K5) was selected from 37 other candidates.
The national release of RHDV1 K5 occurred at hundreds of sites across Australia in 2017, but not before it was rigorously tested, assessed and registered. Upon its release, RHDV1 K5 produced an average rabbit population knockdown of 34 per cent, although the results were highly variable. It was also discovered that RHDV1 K5 worked more as a biocide, rather than a biocontrol agent, meaning it generally did not spread beyond the original release site.
For more information, please see RHDV1 K5 in Victoria.
In 2015, a rogue virus called RHDV2 was detected in pest rabbits in Australia. This virus has now spread throughout most of Australia and is currently the dominant RHDV strain. This virus is referred to as RHDV2 because the mode of death is the same as RHDV1, but it is separate virus. In contrast to RHDV1 K5 and the Czech strain of RHDV1, RHDV2 can cause death in young rabbit kittens (3 to 4 weeks) and vaccinated adults. RHDV2 has also been reported to infect hares, unlike the RHDV1 strains.
Point to note about biocontrol:
- RHDV1, RHDV2 and myxomatosis alone will not provide effective rabbit control.
- Biocontrol options must be used in conjunction with traditional control methods.
- Susceptible rabbits exposed to RHD and myxomatosis are likely to die. However, some exposed rabbits will live a full life and breed as normal.
Repellents and deterrents
There are repellents and deterrents available that may provide some level of protection to gardens, crops and pasture. Repellents and deterrents do not provide any rabbit population reduction.
Tree guards are essential in some rabbit prone areas. It may be more cost-effective when planting large areas to rabbit-proof fence the whole site and remove all rabbits inside the fenced area prior to planting.
- Explosives may be suitable for use in rural and natural landscapes, but they are relatively expensive compared to other traditional techniques.
- Explosives can be used to implode warrens that are surrounded by desirable vegetation or are otherwise unsuitable for ripping. The process involves using an explosive charge to cause sufficient sub-surface disturbance to collapse the warren system while creating minimal disturbance on the surface.
Permits are required to use explosive materials. Explosives should only be used by appropriately accredited operators.
Under Regulation 12 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Regulations 2019 – the use of Oxy- LPG pest-control devices is prohibited in rabbit burrows unless all reasonable efforts have been made to empty the burrow or warren of live rabbits, using other methods, have first been employed.
- Shooting is rarely effective unless it is implemented at very low rabbit densities or to remove a small number of individuals.
- Shooting is labour intensive, requires appropriate licences and warrens remain open for re-infestation.
- Shooting doesn't provide any level of long-term control.
Ferreting and trapping
Ferreting and trapping are not effective methods of control as the techniques are labour intensive and warrens remain open for re-infestation. Trapping also has animal welfare implications.
Any trapping of rabbits MUST be carried out in accordance with the requirements of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 (POCTA) and associated regulations.