Rabbit and Hare Control
Rabbits and hares have become a major pest in NZ and Australia. The European rabbit was introduced to NZ around 1838 as game for sportsmen to hunt. Rabbit numbers quickly rose to plague proportions in Otago, Canterbury and Wairarapa by 1890. Ferrets, stoats, weasels and cats were introduced in an attempt to control the rabbits with disastrous effect on native bird life.
Hares can be distinguished from rabbits by their longer legs which can be seen clearly when running.
Breeding is a year round activity in NZ. A female rabbit can produce 25-40 young per year and young become sexually mature at 3-4 months. Rabbits eat grasses, clover, buds and seeds of many annuals. Rabbits compete with stock for grazing and often eat out the most palatable grass. Their burrowing may be a cause of erosion in softer soils. Rabbits more rarely create warrens now. Instead the female will dig a short cul-de-sac tunnel called a stop to give birth in. The highest densities of rabbits are found on the tussock grassland of the South Island. Rabbits eat grass leaves right down to the ground and seriously damage the productivity of pasture.
The introduction of ferrets, stoats, weasels and cats to areas plagued by rabbits did have an effect on numbers of rabbits but was also detrimental to native animals, particularly birds. In the 1990s farmers called for the release of RCD (rabbit calicivirus disease – now known as RHD, rabbit haemoragic disease). When official approval was turned down in 1997 farmers smuggled the virus into NZ and released it. The virus spread rapidly and has had some success in controlling rabbits. The use of the virus has now been approved by government, however, there is concern that new generations of rabbits will have more immunity to the disease.
Target Pest is New Zealand’s premier pest control operator and carries out large and small scale control of rabbits and hares. Contact us on 0800 487 277