Integrated rabbit control
Under the Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994 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 have been significant pests in Australia since they were released near Geelong, Victoria in 1860. 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.
Rabbit biology and behaviour
Before designing your rabbit control program, it is important to understand rabbit biology and behaviour:
- Rabbits have a hierarchy in which dominant males mate with dominant females. Non-dominant rabbits will disperse and seek alternative feeding areas and establish other warrens.
- Rabbits are territorial. Adventurous rabbits generally feed further from the warren – shy rabbits feed closer to the warren. Rabbits may not find bait placed outside their feeding areas.
- Rabbits are naturally wary of new things in their environment. Free-feeding is essential to encourage rabbits to feed on rabbit bait before the poison baits are applied.
- Rabbits are prolific breeders, able to produce numerous litters per year. A pair of rabbits can turn into over 180 rabbits in just 18 months.
- Breeding is often triggered by the presence of nutritious green growth. This usually occurs during the wetter months but can include wet summers.
- Survival of young is substantially increased when rabbits have safe harbour, especially earth burrows and warrens. The destruction of warrens is the key to achieving long-term rabbit control.
Managing rabbits on your property
- Effective rabbit control is achieved by using a combination of control measures, not just one. There is no quick-fix solution.
- One rabbit is one too many. Leaving a pair of rabbits or just one burrow will lead to re-infestation undermining your control work and investment.
- Be aware native wildlife may also be using rabbit harbour. Ensure your rabbit control program doesn't affect native wildlife.
- If any rabbit control work is to be undertaken which 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 in the 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 treat 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
Planning can maximise the effectiveness of rabbit control while minimising damage to other animals. Consider rabbit density, distribution and habitat as this will determine what actions are appropriate. The following steps will help when planning.
Coordinate control work with your neighbours. The best results are achieved where neighbours conduct simultaneous rabbit control across a landscape rather than on individual properties. Work on your property can be undermined by the inactivity of your neighbours. Talk to your neighbours and local Landcare group to work out a coordinated plan.
Aim to be rabbit free
Create a detailed rabbit management plan that has specific aims and objectives.
- 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.
- Identify rabbit feeding and activity areas throughout your property and map these areas for future reference. Rabbits are often found around rocky outcrops, buildings, wood heaps, fence lines, waterways, weedy areas.
- Assess the risks to non-target animals before implementing baiting or shooting.
- Assess the number of rabbits on your property. Conduct night time spotlight counts, map the location of warrens and rabbit activity.
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 monitoring on an ongoing basis to detect and treat any re-infestation of your property.
Time of year
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 cause added stress on the rabbit population and may lead to longer-lasting results.
Controlling rabbit populations when they are low is the most cost-effective control and efforts is more likely to be sustained.
Use the right tools
Effective rabbit management utilises all control tools that suit your property. Every individual rabbit should be exposed to as many different control tools as possible.
Make your property a rabbit unfriendly environment. The order in which your control tools are implemented is important to maximise the effectiveness of your control program. Ideally, follow this sequence of control:
- 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.
Size of the task
Invest maximum resources into the first year of your rabbit control program.
Aim to rip all warrens in the landscape in the first season. This will help to reduce re-invasion and protect your investment. This approach will save time, money and effort in the long term.
Research shows that well designed and implemented ripping programs, using best practice principles, can achieve long-term control and maintain rabbits at low levels for more than ten years after the initial control program.
Evaluate your success
Conduct a second round of monitoring after your control program:
- 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 on an ongoing basis. Any sign of rabbit activity should trigger an immediate control response.
It is your responsibility to control rabbits on your property.
Trialled by the CSIRO in the late 1930s and 1940s, myxoma virus was released into the feral rabbit population in the 1950s. Within months, myxoma virus had knocked over 90 per cent of some rabbit populations but has become less effective over time due to rabbits developing genetic resistance. Today it affects an estimated 40 to 50 per cent of the rabbit population. Myxoma virus is spread predominately by fleas and mosquitoes.
Rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV), previously known as rabbit calicivirus, has been used as a biocontrol for rabbits in Australia since 1996. Spread by bushflies and blowflies, 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 over time. 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 certain sub-species of hares in Europe as well as rabbits, 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.
Baiting is a useful knockdown technique to reduce the rabbit population prior to a warren ripping program. However, it must be used in combination with other control measures to ensure long-term effective rabbit control.
At present there are two toxins registered for use on rabbits in Victoria: 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 vertebrate rabbits, foxes, wild dogs and wild or feral pigs in Victoria.
1080 is derived from a compound found in many Australian native plants – some Australian native animals have a higher tolerance to 1080, depending on the species. 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.
1080 baiting programs are cheaper than Pindone because only one poison feed is required compared to up to three for Pindone.
Non-target animals may be killed as a result of consuming 1080 bait. 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 Pest Animal Bait Products in Victoria and PAPP.
1080 baiting programs should not be implemented where they pose a risk of killing non-target wildlife.
Non-target species, such as dogs, cats and carnivores, may be killed by 'secondary poisoning' as a result of consuming rabbits poisoned with 1080. 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 typically used where 1080 is either impractical or unsuitable. This is because of the delayed onset of pindone (anticoagulant) toxicity, as well as there being 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 that are spaced several days apart, rather than a large single dose. The delayed onset of action 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
In 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 type of harbour rabbits are using
- where the rabbits are feeding your property and adjoining properties
- what non-target animals are present (native/domestic) and are they at risk from eating poison bait or poisoned carcasses.
Do the job well:
- Using free-feeds (non-poisoned baits) before baiting will help you calculate the amount of poison feed required and may help increase uptake of poisoned baits.
- Every rabbit must have access to the free-feeds (non-poisoned baits) to increase the uptake of poisoned baits.
- Check free-feed or poison bait each day to assess the amount of bait taken. If all bait is eaten increase the baiting rate. If excess bait remains, reduce the baiting rate (Only one poison feed is used in 1080 baiting programs).
- Make sure rabbits can feed undisturbed on your free-feed bait or poison bait (do not shoot or hunt during baiting)
- Always free-feed and bait according to the manufacturer's instructions.
- Keep livestock, dogs and other animals away from baits and poisoned carcasses to reduce the chance of non-target poisoning. Consider muzzling dogs for the duration of poisoning programs.
All of the rabbit population must be exposed to the poison program.
When to bait
Rabbits can be poisoned at any time that they will readily take oat or carrot bait.
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 and so rabbits range over greater distances.
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 bait is presented to the whole rabbit population where they feed, maximising the exposure to the baiting program.
Keep children, livestock, dogs and other animals away from baits and poisoned carcasses to reduce the chance of off-target poisoning. Consider muzzling dogs for the duration of poisoning programs.
Safety is your responsibility. Inform your neighbours before conducting baiting and erect warning signs as per the product label.
Follow directions for use and handling as specified on the product label.
Ensure all bait material and carcasses are removed and disposed of as per the product label.
The product label provides specific directions for use and must be read, understood and followed
Always read and heed the label.
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 also attracts rabbits to the trail.
Bait laying equipment for a poisoning program 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 form some pest control contractors and farm suppliers. It is essential to use good quality bait material. Best results are achieved with quality fresh carrots, fed to rabbits the same day as they are cut. Feeding at dusk ensures the carrots don't dry out in the sun, reduces potential harm non-target animals and helps carrots stay fresh and attractive to rabbits for a longer time.
Shelf stable oat baits
Pre-mixed Pindone or 1080 shelf stable 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.
On each day of the control program, the baited area and surrounding areas must be thoroughly searched for dead rabbits.
Carcasses must be collected and properly disposed of to lessen the risk to non-target species as per the product label.
Uneaten poison bait should also removed and disposed of as per the product label.
Ripping to destroy warrens
Some areas are more suitable for rabbit warrens that others. Rabbits prefer soils which are easy to dig and are well drained.
Granitic and sandy soils are particularly suitable to rabbits, but these soils are also often highly erodible so precautions with earthworks may be necessary.
Ripping destroys the warrens where rabbits live and shelter. A rabbit control program will fail unless all burrows and other harbour are destroyed.
Before you begin:
- Make sure all rabbits are driven underground, either 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 completely destroyed.
- Mechanical equipment including bulldozers, excavators, backhoes and tractor-mounted rippers are highly efficient methods to destroy warren systems. Generally the bigger machines the better the job.
- A tyned 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 to rip again at an angle of 90 degrees to the original ripping.
- 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, decreasing its attractiveness to re-invading rabbits. Track rolling will also help 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 warrens
Fumigation only works when the burrow is sealed.
Select a fumigant
Aluminium phosphide is the most commonly used fumigant – it comes in a tablet form and releases poisonous phosphine gas when activated by moisture.
All fumigants are Schedule 7 poisons therefore an Agricultural Chemical Users Permit (ACUP) is required to purchase them. 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 adhered to at all times. You must wear appropriate personal protective equipment as specified on the product label.
Ensure rabbits are in the warren
Fumigation will only be effective on those rabbits that are 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 shelter such as heaps of debris, patches of woody weeds, buildings and some forms of native vegetation to harbour. 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.
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.
Rabbit-proof fencing is a one-off process. However, 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.
Other management techniques
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 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 not an effective control technique 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.