Thursday, August 01, 2013


I noticed, while in the supermarket the other day, they were selling wild rabbits (meat) for around $20.
Neighbour Gail, up the back, breeds rabbits for meat and sells them at a good price too.
As one who grew up learning about the rabbit scourge and then having to deal with them on the farm, I was quite amazed at this development.
From hated pest to gourmet food?
Rabbit was a common food way back when, both in the country where they were plentiful (actually in plague proportions) and in the cities in the less affluent parts. Rabbitos used to hawk around the streets with them.
But we never had them at home when I was a kid.. My mother would disdainfully say "Depression food!"  and that was that.
Rabbits are not native to Australia.
They were introduced to the country in the 18th century by the first settlers as a food source.
Some were even imported from the UK as wild food for another perennial imported pest, the fox, so the gentlemen of the day could pursue their 'sport' of hunting.
Thomas Austin is credited with releasing 24 wild rabbits at his Barwon Park property near Geelong in Victoria in 1859. This small population exploded to cover Victoria and New South Wales by 1886. By 1900, rabbits had reached the Northern Territory and Western Australia.

Rabbits cause millions of dollars of damage to agricultural crops, pastureland and the bushland, reducing regeneration of vulnerable native plant species which encourages erosion and changes the landscape forever.
They actively compete with domestic livestock and can alter pasture composition by selectively grazing on more palatable and nutritious plants. Seven to ten rabbits eat the equivalent of one adult sheep.
Their presence has also led to the demise of many native marsupial species such as the bilby and the bandicoot as their feed sources were consumed by marauding rabbits.
They can also cause structural damage to buildings, fences, roads and railway lines by undermining them with their burrows.
Various control methods are available to landholders which includes shooting, trapping, poisoning, fumigation and warren destruction techniques such as ripping and using explosives.
In 1907 a rabbit proof fence was built in Western Australia in an attempt to contain the rabbits.
There are three fences in Western Australia. The original No. 1 Fence crosses the state from north to south, the No. 2 Fence which is smaller and further west, and the smaller east-west running No. 3 fence. The fences took six years to build. When completed all three fences stretched 3,253 km (2,021 miles) across the state.

Biological controls, such as the rabbit calici virus and myxomatosis, have been released into the population to help keep it in check.
We had a rabbit problem when I first moved onto our property. By law the land owner has to keep the population under control by warren and burrow destruction. The Rural Lands Protection Board had the right to inspect properties and fines were imposed for non compliance.
We were limited to the fumigation method where all but one entrance to burrows were blocked up and a gas pellet put down the remaining one which was then sealed. A lot of hard work that never seemed to have much affect.
Every now and then, myxomatosis would come through the area and pretty much decimate the population but resistance to this virus was building and its affect began to diminish.
Then the CSIRO found that the calici virus might be a solution. In Europe this has a lethal affect on the wild and pet rabbit population and animals need to be vaccinated against it.
Long term tests to ascertain the affect of this virus on native wild life were carried out on a remote island off South Australia. Reports were that it had no affect on local animals but having had biological controls "go wrong" before eg. the cane toad, the government was very conservative in their approach.
But some people would not wait. Mysteriously the virus was released onto the mainland.
The affect was immediate. Rabbits began dying in their millions.
It took around 3 years for the virus to reach us and within a year the rabbits were gone.
The countryside began to change. Native plants thought to be extinct began to reappear.
The rabbit shortage became so acute that the famous Australian felt hat maker, Akrubra, had to start importing rabbit fur from overseas.
While we seldom see a rabbit these days it has become apparent in other parts of the country that resistance to the calici virus is now building and rabbit populations are again on the increase.
Research for a permanent solution continues.

1 comment:

atayah said...

Nothing worse than a marauding bunny!