Rabbit: Pests in Australia

The Rabbit Rabbits have become a number one pest for Australians. They are causing damage to the plant life which has turned once fertile soil into sandy desserts. They are also a menace to farmers. The rabbits eat their crops and contaminate the land and waterholes the farmers use to raise sheep and other livestock. Rabbits were introduced into Australia in 1788, but they were for the most part caged and their population controlled. However, in 1859 Thomas Austin asked his nephew to send him 24 wild rabbits for hunting.

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Other neighbors soon followed this example and released their caged rabbits into the wild as well. Within ten years, the population of rabbits had expanded into the millions and the damage had begun. The fast rate of reproduction was mostly due to the fact of there being no natural predator for the rabbit in Australia and that rabbits can reproduce up to eight times a year. In 1901 a Royal Commission was held to discuss the problem. It was decided that a “rabbit proof fence” should be built to protect the farmer’s lands.

The building of a fence that would stretch for hundreds of miles was completed in 1907. However, this was only the first part of the fence as it had to be added onto two more times and to this day is still being maintained. Unfortunately, this very costly endeavor has not been very effective because the rabbits had already crossed over the barrier line by the time the first part was completed. Other attempts at control were the obvious methods of shooting and trapping, which at one time made Australia the number one exporter of rabbit pelts.

Nevertheless, the only method that even made a dent in the rabbit population was the use of biological warfare in 1958. The procedure was to inject several rabbits with a virus that would easily spread to the other rabbits. Although this method worked for a while, the rabbits have since developed a genetic immunity to the virus causing it to be less effective. There was also great controversy in the use of the method by land owners and environmentalists. Some pet rabbits were infected by this virus as it is easily transmitted by mosquitoes. Another similar attempt was made in 1996 hen scientists accidentally released another type of virus into the rabbit population. Again, this had only marginal success. Today, there is consideration being given to the possibility of drug use to sterilize the rabbits so they cannot reproduce. This idea is also being met with controversy and many environmentalists are complaining about inhumane treatment of the Australian rabbit which is slowing the process even further. Recently, the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre has asked for assistance from the Australian people in monitoring the reproduction of the rabbits.

Basically, they are trying to get a head count of rabbits in each area and see how fast that count is growing. If the population is continuing to reproduce at an alarming rate, they will consider bringing in another virus to fix the problem. Their concern is that natural grasses and other flora need to be able to regenerate because so much was recently lost due to the excessive fires in Australia. I compare Australia’s problem with rabbits to that of mice for us. They may be cute, but a balance must be reached in order to sustain life for all living things.

I don’t like the idea of a virus being used to kill off little bunnies anymore than I like the idea of shooting them, but I understand the need and accept that something must be done. References: ABC Canberra, 2009. Retrieved on July 31, 2009 from http://www. abc. net. au/news/stories/2009/03/04/2507512. htm? site=canberra Absolute Astronomy. com, Exploring the Universe of Knowledge 2009. Retrieved on July 31, 2009 from http://www. absoluteastronomy. com/topics/Rabbits_in_Australia#encyclopedia Department of Agriculture and Food, May 2008. Retrieved on July 31, 2009 from http://www. agric. wa. gov. au/PC_93067. html? s=1001,Topic=PC_92738


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