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How to manage rabbits successfully

Brendan, Chas, Nathan, Lachlan and Greg have been conducting rabbit surveys on 1800 properties in and around Highfields.
Brendan, Chas, Nathan, Lachlan and Greg have been conducting rabbit surveys on 1800 properties in and around Highfields. Contributed

RABBITS in the Toowoomba region are on notice with field officers doorknocking more than 1800 homes in the Highfields area to determine their abundance by looking for warrens and breeding hotspots ahead of a major control effort.

The activity is part of a joint project where Queensland Murray-Darling Committee officers have teamed up with the Toowoomba Regional Council, the Darling Downs-Moreton Rabbit Board and Biosecurity Queensland to reduce the rabbit population in the areas of Highfields, Cabarlah, Hampton, Crows Nest and Yarraman.

Rabbits are a declared pest in Queensland, inflicting significant damage to the landscape, the environment, domestic gardens and agricultural production - to both cropping and livestock.

Rabbits consume significant amounts of pasture. Studies have shown that just two rabbits have the potential to generate 120 rabbits within a 12-month period, and 50 rabbits can eat the same amount of pasture as one horse or one cow.

They eat high-value small crops from seedlings through to mature plants and damage fruit trees by eating their bark. One apple grower on the Southern Downs lost 200 young trees to rabbits originating from one warren, at a replacement cost of $16 per tree.

Technical staff representing TRC, QMDC, the DDMRB and Biosecurity Queensland are now doorknocking to carry out the surveys. We are calling landholders to help identify the locations of rabbit hotspots on their properties or in their neighbourhood.

QMDC's regional co-ordinator for land and water, Vanessa Macdonald, said autumn was the ideal time to tackle the rabbit population.

"With favourable climatic conditions, a recent outbreak of rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHDV2) and the release of the K5 virus each impacting on rabbit numbers, now is the ideal time to add another layer to control efforts by way of mechanical warren ripping,” Ms Macdonald said.

"We're in the process of surveying rabbit breeding places on more than 1800 properties on private and public land in the Highfields area. This will enable us to map entries to underground warrens or harbours such as under sheds or rubbish piles and the level of rabbit activity.

"So far we've completed over 1000 surveys and have been finding slightly less warrens than we anticipated which is a good starting point for us.”

Research by QMDC has revealed the most effective approach to managing rabbits is to remove their breeding grounds (by mechanical means), effectively taking out the source of the population.

Should any breeding places be identified on a property, QMDC will work in consultation with the owner to conduct control work and prevent rabbits from recovering and returning to historically high and destructive levels.

Topics:  pest management qmdc rabbit control