New national plan for bunnies

Australia’s long-running battle with the feral rabbit has entered a new phase, with the release for public comment of an updated national plan to tackle this major environmental pest.

The latest draft of the Department of the Environment’s threat abatement plan for rabbits has found they now affect more than 300 nationally threatened species, double the number estimated in 2008.

Threatened Species Commissioner Gregory Andrews said the rise in rabbit numbers was not only bad news for farmers, but also for threatened native species like quolls, bandicoots, bettongs and the mountain pygmy-possum.

“It’s a sad fact there are more rabbits in Australia than there are of any native mammal species, including kangaroos,” Mr Andrews said.

“Not only do rabbits compete with local animals for food and burrows but they also destroy habitat, eating native plants and eroding soils so that weeds take over.”

It only takes one rabbit per football fieldsized paddock to affect native species. The science is also clear that uncontrolled rabbit populations can allow feral cat numbers to escalate because the cats can breed more quickly when food is abundant.

Andreas Glanznig, CEO of Invasive Animals Co-operative Research Centre, said the national plan identifies rabbit biocontrol agents and other rabbit management techniques as a high priority.

“Rabbit biocontrol has reduced the risk of extinction for many threatened species,” he said.

“We know that when rabbit numbers fall the benefits to the environment are high. After the release of Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV) in 1996, studies found that populations of native animals increased, native vegetation regenerated, and fox and feral cat numbers
decreased in some areas.”

Mr Glanznig said biocontrol is not a silver bullet and conventional control methods such as baiting, fumigation, warren ripping, exclusion fencing, shooting and trapping — done humanely — are also needed in line with biocontrol to maintain rabbit numbers at low levels.

The threat abatement plan is open for public comment until March16, 2016 click here

Impacts of rabbits in Australia

• Australia’s most costly pest animal, rabbits cause $206 million in losses each year
to the agricultural industry.
• They compete with grazing stock for food, contribute to soil erosion, damage crops
and destabilise the land, potentially leading to injury of livestock.
• Rabbits threaten the survival of more than 300 Australian native flora and fauna
species. This includes 24 critically endangered species such as the pygmy possum,
orange-bellied parrot and ballerina orchid.
• Less than one rabbit per football field-sized paddock is enough to stop the growth
of some native species and negatively affect biodiversity.

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