The European wild rabbit is an introduced pest throughout the southern two thirds of Australia. They affect natural environments, primary production, and even townships and infrastructure. Wild rabbits are ‘ecosystem engineers’, fundamentally changing whole ecosystems. Their broad distribution, and the wide range of problems they cause, make them the nation’s worst vertebrate pest. European wild rabbits adversely affect over 300 threatened native species, change landscapes, and cause losses of over $200 million a year to agricultural production.
The benefits of rabbit control include:
- More plant species and more plant growth. Rabbits are selective feeders and, even in low numbers, can eliminate entire species of plants. In high numbers they can wreak havoc across entire landscapes.
- Fewer feral predators. Rabbits can be easy tucker for introduced predators like feral cats and foxes – helping to sustain those species and hence their predation on native animals.
- Less erosion and fewer weeds. The burrowing of rabbits and their destruction of vegetation can leave land bare and open to erosion, the degradation of waterways, and invasion by weeds. Rabbits can also undermine roads, water-tanks and even buildings.
- More native animals. More abundant and healthier bushland provides food, shelter and nesting options for a myriad of animals which, together with fewer feral predators, results in healthier populations of native animals ranging from invertebrates to reptiles, birds and mammals.
- Sustainable food production. Controlling rabbits results in more crop and pasture growth and production, less damage to infrastructure, and lower costs of production due to less need for pest and weed control.
- More carbon sequestration. More plant growth equates to more carbon sequestration.
- Healthy ecosystems and landscapes. All of the above improve the health of our Australian landscapes and natural ecosystems.
European wild rabbits are native to southwest Europe and northwest Africa – and have been introduced to every continent on earth except for Antarctica and sub-Saharan Africa. They often cause environmental harm in their new homelands, and their impact has been very pronounced in Australia where seasons can permit year-round breeding, free of some of their traditional diseases and the many predators they faced in their home lands; including eagles, lynx, martens, ferrets, mongooses, cats and foxes.