Rabbit control: Protecting Canberra’s Nature Reserves

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Rabbit pest problem in Australia

Everybody knows the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) is an invasive pest in Australia. Overgrazing affects growth of native plants exposing top soil, causing erosion and rabbits compete with native fauna for resources.
Rabbits can survive in a wide range of landscapes, such as grasslands, woodland, heath and forest, all of which are found in Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve (TNR) and in places, they can be found in very large numbers.

Even though I knew all this, admittedly, it was not until starting work at TNR that I realised the extent of the problem. My opinion now? Kill ‘em all.

Grassland at Flints (TNR), perfectly suitable for rabbit (and kangaroo) grazing

Grassland at Flints (TNR), perfectly suitable for rabbit (and kangaroo) grazing

TNR have a number of programs aimed at increasing populations of threatened species including Yellow-footed Rock-wallaby (Petrogale xanthopus) Southern Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby (Petrogale penicillata), and Eastern Bettong (Bettongia gaimardi) whose diets overlap with rabbits. For all of the reasons mentioned above, it is important to have a good plan.

My Work

My first day I was shown around the park to familiarise myself. Ranger Jackson and I looked for recent rabbit activity in areas treated with 1080 poison a couple of weeks prior as part of an initial reduction plan.

I was tasked with using a GPS system to map any warrens and activity throughout selected parts of the reserve. These included the popular walking areas of Black Flats, The Sanctuary, Flints picnic area, Rock Valley Homestead surrounds and Bushland Meander. GPS points included notes if warrens, latrines and scratchings were present.

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Rabbit warren entrances under old Eucalyptus stump

                                       

The data were used to create maps necessary for the second component of the park’s plan in releasing calicivirus (Rabbit haemorrhagic disease). This is a preferred method in rabbit control as it is rabbit specific, unlike 1080 poison which can affect a number of species. Calicivirus is transferred by direct contact and flies are also key transmitters, so the release will commence as the weather warms again and fly numbers increase.

After looking at sites with lot’s of activity, we mapped out which areas would be most successful in encouraging the spread and where cages should lay.

The idea is to have a couple of free feeds (not infected) to attract the animals to caged areas where a third feed will contain the calicivirus. The maps created from GPS data will help in monitoring areas for further treatment and for any necessary carcass collection after the virus release.  

Rabbit before feed containing virus (Picture credit http://www.pic2fly.com)

Rabbit after feed containing virus (Picture credit http://www.cartoonsimages.com)

Conclusion/Reflection

Obviously rabbit pest management is an ongoing battle but hopefully the data collected and the project that is being undertaken can help in reducing the effects and assist with future enclosure and animal release planning for natives.

Being outside in breathtaking scenery daily was surreal and I found it more to be a privilege for myself rather than work.

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View from the top of Gibraltar rocks, Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve

I spent five days at TNR and had the opportunity to learn and be part of a variety of projects the staff are involved in.
It was a great learning experience to see the variety of work that takes place at Tidbinbilla and to gain a better understanding of pest management in different landscapes in our Bush capital.

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About Biodiversity Conservation Blog

I am an Associate Professor at The Australian National University and convene a (very awesome) course called Biodiversity Conservation. Myself and students in the course contribute to this blog.
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One Response to Rabbit control: Protecting Canberra’s Nature Reserves

  1. Chloe says:

    Great piece! I’d be interested to see the types of damage rabbits do at TNR, as well as have an idea of their rough population numbers. Do you have any idea how effective rabbit control is at TNR and whether this is the best possible solution to the rabbit problem at TNR?

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