Competition for feed from rabbits reduces the productivity of grazing lands, but their consumption of green-feed and environmental impacts have economic consequences for grain production, lucerne growing, perennial and annual horticulture, viticulture, nursery, forestry and revegetation initiatives. They can also undermine or otherwise damage infrastructure and harm peri-urban properties and culturally important sites.
The ‘cost’ of rabbits includes the losses in production they cause, funds to repair infrastructure, the costs of their control, and the social costs of confronting rabbits.
In this section:
- Production & Profit – livestock, crops, horticulture, viticulture, forestry and revegetation
- Infrastructure & Peri-urban Costs – from roads and railways to back yard gardens
- Social Costs – affecting peri-urban and rural communities
Grazing industries suffer obvious losses from competition by rabbits and from the feral predators (foxes and cats) they support, but all commodities growing plants in the open experience some loss through grazing, soil erosion and weeds. As an example, vegetables often targeted by rabbits include beans, peas, beet, broccoli, carrot, lettuce, and herbs like parsley. The economic loss to primary industries can be considered from assessments of the Costs to Producers and the Gains from Rabbit Control.
Rabbits are a risk to infrastructure ranging from undermining major transport or communications infrastructure like roads, railways and towers, to damaging golf courses or lawns in suburban back yards. The diversity has made any assessment of the quantum of damage and control costs difficult to determine.
Left un-managed wild rabbits in the garden can quickly escalate to the undermining of infrastructure like sheds and water-tanks. Local governments and various regional and state agencies must periodically provide advice to peri-urban landholders on how to manage rabbits.
An example of guidance for urban or semi-urban areas is ‘Rabbit control in urban and peri-urban areas’, by the Port Phillip & Westernport CMA and local governments of the area. Rabbits in peri-urban areas are a national issue with similar advice available from:
- City of Gold Coast (Qld)
- Sutherland Shire (NSW)
- Mornington Peninsula Shire (Vic)
- Urban & semi-urban areas (WA)
- City of Hobart (Tas)
For peri-urban residents, invasive pests in their garden may be their first exposure to wild rabbits. Coming to grips with the need to control the rabbits and bewildered by trying to understand where to go for advice or assistance can be stressful.
Rural land managers may also face dilemmas and stress when dealing with rabbits or coping with the consequences of their presence. Documented social impacts of wild rabbits include psychological stress, (e.g. anxiety, frustration and depression due to financial loss through reduced agricultural production), trauma (associated with members of the public finding sick animals), and concern about potential injury to livestock (horses) from warrens (Fitzgerald & Wilkinson 2009).
A further cost of rabbit burrowing is the disturbance to, and exposure of, Aboriginal burial sites and other features of cultural significance. Rabbits can be a threat to archaeological evidence and a painful denigrator of sacred features. Special care is needed for rabbit control in such situations.
Rabbits must be controlled to avoid massive environmental, economic and social harm, but control also has its costs. One of them is the dilemma of killing an animal for a greater good. A code of practice has been developed to facilitate animal welfare considerations in the process of rabbit control. The ‘Code of practice for the humane control of rabbits’ is available at the pestSMART website.
Social Cost References:
- Peacock D, Cox T, Strive T, Mutze G, West P & Saunders P. (2021) ‘Benefits of Rabbit Biocontrol in Australia: An Update.’ Centre for Invasive Species Solutions. Canberra.
- Fitzgerald G & Wilkinson. (2009) ‘Assessing the social impact of invasive animals in Australia.’ Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre, Canberra