The rabbit is Australia's most destructive introduced pest. All varieties, including domestic breeds, are declared pest animals under the Land Protection (Pest and Stock Route Management Act 2002). It is an offence to keep a rabbit of any variety as a pet (this includes domestic pet rabbits). Currently the maximum penalty is $44,000.
Rabbits are often confused with the hare. It should be remembered the hare is not a declared pest animal.
Rabbit or hare?
- Rabbits and hares are roughly cat-sized animals but with very short tails.
- Both are coloured a brindled brown above and white below.
- They have long powerful hind legs giving the animals a fast turn of speed.
- Their very large ears catch every sound and can move independently from one another which enables them to listen in two directions at once. Their ears also provide a large surface area which catches more sound waves.
How do I spot the difference?
Here are some tips to help you tell a rabbit and a hare apart.
- Hares are considerably larger than rabbits with a head and body length of 55 centimetres as opposed to 40 centimetres for rabbits. Did you know that a hare can weigh twice as much as a rabbit - approximately 3 kilograms, compared to 1.5 kilograms for a rabbit.
- Hares are more golden-brown in colour, rabbits greyer.
- The hind legs of hares are relatively larger and they can run faster than rabbits.
- Hares have relatively longer ears than rabbits and these have distinct black tips - those of rabbits don't.
- Look at their tails - in both species the upper surface is black, the lower white. When disturbed, hares hold their tails low so that the black upper surface shows but rabbits cock theirs up to show the white under surface as a general alarm signal. These can often be seen when rabbits are scuttling for shelter.
- Hares tend to lead solitary lives except when breeding, whereas rabbits live in groups.
There are seven steps to successful rabbit management in urban environments:
- inspection of the property
- destruction of rabbit habitat
- fumigation of existing warrens
- live capture trapping
- exclusion fencing
- regular inspection of your property
Inspection of the property
When inspecting a property you will need to look for suitable habitat areas for rabbit colonies. The following are a good indication that you may have a rabbit problem:
- fresh rabbit droppings
- recently excavated patches of soil
- well worn trails that go into harborage areas or under fencing
If you find evidence of rabbits on your property, talk to your nearest neighbors to discuss a community-wide approach to effectively eradicate rabbits, especially in areas of small acreage properties.
Destruction of rabbit habitat
The most effective method of controlling rabbits is the destruction of their harbourage areas and warrens, otherwise rabbits will quickly re-colonise.
When rabbits are found under disused sheds and buildings, the only effective way to completely eradicate the rabbits is to remove the flooring to gain access to the burrows. All nearby piles of rubbish need to be removed, as these provide rabbits with alternative safe habitat.
Fumigation of existing warrens
Fumigants are easy to use and are very cost-effective. You can buy them from most agricultural suppliers. Ensure that you read the product label carefully and follow all the instructions provided before using any fumigants A current "material safety data sheet" (MSDS) should be kept at the fumigation site. This is available from the agricultural supplier.
Live capture trapping
The following types of traps are effective and humane:
Soft catch rubber-jawed foot-hold traps
You may use soft catch rubber-jawed foot-hold traps to catch rabbits. These should be placed at the entrance to the burrow. Before setting the traps check for rabbit tracks and fresh droppings in the loose soil at the burrow's entrance.
Trapping techniques must conform to accepted animal welfare practices and the traps used must be approved by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA).
Soft catch rubber-jawed traps are designed to firmly hold captured rabbits while practically eliminating trap-induced and self-induced injury.
Drop door cage trap
The drop door cage trap is best suited for covered areas (inside barns and under floorboards of sheds).
10 days before setting the traps establish a feeding pattern by placing a mixture of diced raw carrots, sweet potato or turnips on the ground near the rabbits' burrow. Only then should the attractant be placed in the traps and the traps set.
Exclusion fencing is an effective method of preventing rabbits from entering the property or excluding them from a particular part of the property. It should be:
- 50 millimetre wire mesh
- one metre high minimum
- buried into the earth to a depth of at least 300 millimetres, to prevent rabbits burrowing under
Regular inspection of your property
A monthly inspection of the property for evidence of rabbit activity is recommended.
There are two methods:
- a daytime visual inspection for fresh rabbit droppings, diggings and holes in or under fencing
- a night time inspection (at least once a month) for feeding rabbits
If you see a rabbit in your area tell your neighbours: a cooperative community approach is necessary to achieve all pest management goals. To report a rabbit sighting, please contact the Darling Downs Moreton Rabbit Board
on 07 4661 4076 or firstname.lastname@example.org.