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.

Brown rabbit, left side profile, ears up, crouched position

Rabbit biology and behaviour

Before designing your rabbit control program, it is important to understand rabbit behaviour and ecology. The following should be considered in the design of your program:

  • Rabbits have a hierarchy, where dominant males mate with dominant females.
  • Non-dominant rabbits will often disperse and seek alternative feeding areas and colonise/establish other warrens.
  • Rabbits are naturally wary of new things in their environment, so free-feeding is essential during baiting programs.
  • 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 which often occurs during the wetter months but can include wet summers.
  • 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.

See European rabbit for more information about their characteristics and behaviour.

Managing rabbits on your property

Points to remember:

  • Effective rabbit control is achieved by using a combination of control measures (not just one) and by working with your neighbours, rather than individual properties.
  • 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 them.
  • 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

Good planning is essential for maximising the effectiveness of your rabbit control, 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.

Work together

The best results are achieved where 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.

Conduct monitoring

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 number of rabbits on your property by spotlighting with a powerful torch or spotlight. You should also map the location of warrens and rabbit activity. It is also important to consider the potential risks to non-target animals and record them on a map for later reference.

Establish a benchmark of rabbit numbers and damage before undertaking rabbit control. This will help measure the 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 has finished so you can treat any re-infestation of your property.

Ute shining spotlight beam into dark paddock

Aim to be rabbit free

Create a detailed rabbit management plan that has specific aims and objectives.

Remember:

  • 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 the use of all control tools that suit your property. Every individual 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 fox unfriendly environment will also help prevent re-invasion and population recovery.

Management techniques

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 referred to as the “rabbit recipe” and it is undertaken as follows::

  1. Allow biological control and natural mortality to reduce the rabbit population.
  2. Bait to reduce numbers prior to ripping.
  3. Remove harbour and destroy warrens (ripping).
  4. Follow up with fumigation and further warren destruction.
  5. Be persistent, remain vigilant and monitor regularly.

Timing

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.

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.

Consider:

  1. Have you destroyed all rabbit warrens and entrances?
  2. Are all the warren entrances closed and inactive?
  3. Are there still rabbits or signs of rabbit activity?
  4. Were the correct controls selected, applied accurately at the optimum times?
  5. What is working well?
  6. What could be improved?
  7. Do you need to change your plan?

Follow up

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.

Poison baiting

Baiting is useful for reducing the rabbit populations prior to a warren ripping program.

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

1080 (sodium monofluoroacetate) is a lethal poison registered to control the following species in Victoria:

  • wild rabbits
  • foxes
  • wild dogs and
  • wild or feral pigs.

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 it only requires one poison feed compared to Pindone, which requires up to three.

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 and PAPP pest animal bait products in Victoria.

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

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, and because there is also 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

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.

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 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
  • scratchings.

It is important that bait is presented to the whole rabbit population where they feed, maximising the exposure to the baiting program.

Free feeding

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 feed required,
  • Identify whether non-target species may be at risk
  • increase uptake of poisoned baits.

Baiting safety

Safety is your responsibility. 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.

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.

Baiting methods

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 poisoning programs can be obtained or hired from most Landcare groups, some equipment hire firms and some pest control contractors.

Sparsely grassed paddock with small baitlayer

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, 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 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.

Cleaning up

On each day of the control program, the baited area and surrounding areas must be thoroughly searched for dead rabbits.

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. Rabbits prefer soils that well drained and easy to dig.

Granitic and sandy soils are particularly suitable, but they are also often highly erodible so precautions are necessary when undertaking earthworks.

Ripping is vitally important as it destroys the warrens where rabbits live and shelter. A rabbit control program will fail unless all burrows and other harbour are destroyed.

Ripper attached to a bulldozer digging into brown earth

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 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 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.

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.

Gouged brown earth that used to be a rabbit warren

Fumigation to destroy rabbits in a warren

Fumigation only works when the burrow is sealed.

Select a fumigant

Aluminium phosphide is the most commonly used fumigant – it comes in a pellet 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. The label also includes information on personal protective equipment.

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.

Farmer with mask and rubber gloves using newspaper to fan smoke over a warren

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 fumigant

Apply the fumigant to each entrance as per the product label.

Farmer with red gloves applying fumigant to rabbit warren

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.

Follow up

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

Wire fence in paddock. Very short grass on left side of fence. Longer grass on right side.

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.

Minimum specifications:

  • 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.

Wire Mesh fencing diagram. 105x4cmx1.4mm netting, 18cm of netting buried under soil, 6cm of netting between ground and 1st fence wire, 45.5cm of netting between 1st and 2nd fence wire, 35.5cm between 2nd and 3rd fence wire

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.

Biological control

Myxoma virus

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

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.

RHDV2

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.

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

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.

Young tree surrounded by mesh fence for protection against pest animals

Explosives

  • 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.

LPG devices

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

  • 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.

Page last updated: 26 Apr 2022