European rabbits were one of the earliest mammalian pests to be introduced into New Zealand in the 1830s! Many people think of rabbits as cute, fluffy and harmless creatures. However, here in NZ, they are a pest (the wild ones at least).
Soon after their introduction, rabbits spread quickly throughout the dry areas, not only in the North and South Island, but at many offshore islands too. The South Island is where Rabbits tend to thrive, as they love dry land. These areas can become overpopulated very quickly if they aren’t controlled as a female rabbit is pregnant for 70% of the year and have a high capacity for reproduction.
Reduction of populations seems to be an on-going issue that is, however, essential for the economics and environmental welfare of NZ. As herbivores, they are very significant agricultural and ecological pests. Rabbits are a major threat to the agricultural and farming industries in New Zealand as they graze on the same grasses that stock do. A group of about seven wild rabbits can eat as much as one ewe!
Rabbits can also cause extensive damage and erosion to the soil by burrowing into and scraping the ground leaving it unusable. In the past, farmers even resorted to abandoning land that was infested with rabbits. Rabbits can also inhibit the growth of native plants and grasses because they like to chew on their new growth.
Early attempts to control rabbits, started one of our worst environmental disasters: the introduction of other pests such as stoats, ferrets and weasels. These were meant to be enemies to rabbits and therefore reduce the population, however this barely worked. In 1997, the Rabbit haemorragic disease (RHD) was introduced illegally in New Zealand to control the rabbit population. This virus has since controlled rabbits naturally through annual knockdowns. Control is especially effective if landowners actively pursue survivors with shooting or poisoning.
The main solutions to control rabbits now, is trapping, spotlighting and shooting, poisoning with baits, burrow-ripping, pathogens, and dogs. Additionally, these pests are part of the reason why many native species have become extinct or close to.
This blog is credited to https://www.doc.govt.nz/nature/pests-and-threats/animal-pests/rabbits/