Rabbits facing control blitz

January 30, 2017

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There's a perfect storm brewing for rabbits in Southern Queensland.

QMDC and local government are planning a blitz attack to take advantage of release of a new strain of rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV), the K5 strain.

QMDC Regional Coordinator Vanessa Macdonald said despite years of rabbit management, low populations, and the initial success of myxomatosis and the original RHDV, rabbit populations were increasing and expanding their range. 

She said with the pending release of the K5 strain and the recently confirmed presence in the region of RHDV-2 (a more virulent strain for cooler and wetter climates), now was the time for landholders to go on the offensive. 

“QMDC and Southern Downs Regional Council are targeting rabbit control programs of warren ripping and harbour removal in the Granite Belt, initially at Wallangarra,” Ms Macdonald said. 

On the Granite Belt, rabbits compete with stock for food, damage horticultural crops and threaten native species such as the area’s well-known rare wildflowers. 

Southern Downs Regional Council Pest Management Officer Craig Magnussen said if land managers got on board, there was a once in a lifetime opportunity to significantly knockdown the rabbit population. 

“We need landholders to rip warrens and remove above ground rabbit harbours like blackberry,” Mr Magnussen said. 

“Warren ripping is the primary on-ground tool as it provides immediate substantial and long lasting reduction in rabbit densities, and pushing the pests to the surface will give RHDV-2 and the K5 strain the best possible chance to knockdown the population this year. 

“The warren ripping is vital because there is a low survival rate of kittens outside warrens.” 

To maximise the impacts of the release of the two RHDV strains, QMDC and the Darling Downs Moreton Rabbit Board (DDMRB) will work in partnership with local government to implement a rabbit control program. 

“We can contribute to the cost of rabbit control on private land in identified high-priority areas, specifically warren ripping and the removal of surface harbours,” Ms Macdonald said. 

DDMRB Rabbit Compliance Coordinator Dr David Berman said a combination of dry weather and knocking out key breeding areas would concentrate rabbits in favoured breeding locations such as established warrens, or under haysheds. 

“What we need is for anyone who has burrows with piles of dirt dug out by rabbits, to please let us know now so we can help destroy the warrens. We need to identify and knock out these priority areas now,” Dr Berman said. 

“This approach of combining warren ripping with the release of a virus has proven effective in the past. Following the arrival of RHDV and large scale warren ripping, rabbits have been kept to historically low densities for at least 10-18 years.” 

Ms Macdonald said QMDC, with the CSIRO, had developed a Habitat Suitability tool to help identify hotspot areas through predictive modelling. There are highly suitable areas where rabbits are able to more easily establish and maintain populations, because of soil type, temperatures and access to food. 

“This tool, along with local knowledge of hotspots, is how we’ve identified the current key areas we and landholders need to monitor so we can catch any rabbit population expansion early.”

If you want to know more about warren ripping, or about if you are in an identified hotspot area, please contact QMDC on 07 4637 6200, the Southern Downs Regional Council on 1 300 MY SDRC (1 300 697 372), or the Darling Downs Moreton Rabbit Board on 07 4661 4076. 

This project is supported by the Queensland Murray-Darling Committee through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme and the Queensland Government State Regional NRM Investment Program.

Pictured: Nationally, rabbits are estimated to cost more than $200 million in lost production value, competing with stock for food, contributing to soil erosion and impacting on native species. Image courtesy of the Rebecca Zanker, IA CRC

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