Fast Facts about Rabbits in Australia

By on May 9, 2014

Here are some interesting facts about rabbits in Australia

  • Rabbits are not native of Australia. They were introduced in 1859 by Thomas Austin.
  • The spread of feral Rabbits from the initial release of only 24 in 1859 was rapid and destructive.
  • They are an invasive species whose introduction to Australia has caused devastation of habitats and is responsible for the major decline and extinction of many native Australian animals (marsupials) such as the greater bilby and the pig-footed bandicoot.

Rabbits in Australia

  • The introduction of the rabbit has also strained the native wildlife of Australia. Rabbits have been blamed for the destruction of the eremophila plant and various species of trees. Because rabbits will feed on seedlings, many trees are never able to reproduce, leading to local extinction.
  • Loss of vegetation leads to soil erosion as the exposed soil is washed or blown away, removing valuable soil nutrients required for new plants to develop. This soil is typically deposited in waterways, causing siltation and destroying aquatic ecosystems.
  • By the 1920s, less than 70-years since its introduction, the rabbit population in Australia ballooned to an estimated 10 billion, reproducing at a rate of 18 to 30 per single female rabbit per year.
  • The rabbits started to migrate across Australia at a rate of 80 miles a year.
  • After destroying two million acres of Victoria’s floral lands, they crossed the states of New South Wales, South Australia, and Queensland. By 1890, rabbits were spotted even in Western Australia.
  • Actively competing with domestic livestock, rabbits can alter pasture composition by selectively grazing on more palatable and nutritious plants. Seven to ten rabbits eat the equivalent of one adult sheep, and, during drought periods, rabbits can totally strip a landscape bare leaving no food for sheep, cattle or native animals.
  • In 1901 the Western Australian Government started building the first Rabbit Proof Fence, it was finished in 1907 and at about 1,830 kilometers it was the longest Rabbit fence built.
  • In 1902, before the first fence was even finished, they had made their way past it, west of the fence.
  • Two more fences were built; the 2nd fence further west was started in 1905.
  • In 1950 the alarming increase of Australian Rabbit population lead to the deliberate introduction of Myxomatosis (a severe viral disease) which led a drop of around 500 million, this still left the population at about 100 million.
  • By 1991 the population had recovered to about 200-300 million due to genetic resistance.
  • In 1996 CSIRO scientists released calicivirus which turned out to be too successful because it killed too many, leaving some predators starving.
  • Although the rabbit population is a fraction of what it was in the early 1920s, it continues to burden the country’s eco- and agricultural systems. They have lived on in Australia for over 150-years and until a perfect virus can be found, they’ll probably be there for several hundred more.

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