It is common around this time of year to see more rabbits hopping around.
This is often interpreted as a worsening rabbit problem.
So, why do we see more rabbits over summer?
Female rabbits can produce young at any time of the year if green grass is available for them to eat. However, their peak in reproduction generally occurs in Spring, following winter rainfall, spring sunshine and an abundance of green grass.
Rabbits are pregnant for only a short period of time, about 28-30 days. As a consequence, it is common to start to see more rabbit kittens on the ground in late spring and early summer.
Visually this makes the rabbit problem appear to be getting worse and is a good reminder to think strategically about your rabbit management plan.
Rabbit viruses should not always be the go-to method for rabbit management
While rabbit viruses are an effective method of controlling rabbit populations, however the only available and accessible rabbit virus, RHDV1-K5, does not kill young rabbits. Rather, this virus only kills rabbits over approximately two months of age and causes life-long immunity in younger rabbit kittens.
Therefore, many pest animal managers recommend not to release RHDV1 K5 when young rabbits are abundant, for example during the Spring and early summer.
While this is not a blanket rule for all of Australia, the most common time to release RHDV1 K5 for rabbit management is during late summer and early autumn, before the first autumn rains and when rabbit breeding activity is low.
Report rabbit deaths via the Rabbit Biocontrol Tracker – if you see dead rabbits over the summer months, you can easily let us know via the FeralScan website or app using the report disease function of the rabbit section – download it today via the website
What else can you do to effectively manage rascally rabbits?
Rabbit viruses like RHDV1 K5 do work, but are not a silver bullet and will not produce the same results in every management program. One of the best methods of achieving long-term reductions in rabbit numbers is to remove their harbour. Rabbits can live in warrens, burrow or thick, dense vegetation and warren ripping can be an effective mechanism to ensure once a rabbit population is low, they won’t bounce back quickly if their housing systems are removed.
There are many great examples of how long-term reductions in rabbit numbers can be achieved. For example, David Lord, who manages Thackaringa Station in western NSW, undertook a large-scale and integrated virus release and warren removal rabbit management program which resulted in reduced rabbit numbers over an extended period of time. Learn more here at PestSmart.
To learn more about how to best manage rabbits explore our PestSmart toolkit which describes how and when to apply a range of rabbit management techniques including biocontrol viruses, trapping, shooting and poisons – https://pestsmart.org.au/toolkits/european-rabbits/.
We also strongly recommend reading the rabbit management code of practice before undertaking rabbit management programs – https://pestsmart.org.au/toolkit-resource/code-of-practice-rabbits/ and our handy printable glovebox guide which can be ordered online – https://pestsmart.org.au/pest-animals/glovebox-guides-order-form/