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Article << Previous     |         Contents Vol 37(1)

Long-term impact of coordinated warren ripping programmes on rabbit populations

S. R. McPhee A B D, K. L. Butler C

A Department of Primary Industries, 600 Sneydes Rd, Werribee, Vic. 3030, Australia.
B Agricultural Technical Services Pty Ltd, 177 Ballan Rd, Werribee, Vic. 3030, Australia.
C Biometrics Unit, Future Farming Systems Research Division, Department of Primary Industries, 600 Sneydes Rd, Werribee, Vic. 3030, Australia.
D Corresponding author. Email: Steve.McPhee@dpi.vic.gov.au
 
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Abstract

Context. It is important to examine the long-term effectiveness of rabbit management programmes based on warren destruction using modern warren ripping machinery, at a time when the continuing impacts of both myxomatosis and rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD) may have reduced the capacity of rabbit populations to recover.

Aims. To determine the long-term effectiveness of coordinated warren ripping programmes in reducing rabbit densities and maintaining these low densities.

Methods. Commencing in 1998, 14 sites with coordinated warren ripping programmes and three sites without rabbit control were monitored within Victoria. Spotlight counts of rabbit numbers recorded before the spread of RHD and warren ripping were compared with numbers recorded from 2005 to 2008. The efficacy of coordinated warren ripping programmes was assessed in relation to the machinery used, the manner in which the warrens were ripped, the characteristics of the ripped areas and the impact of follow-up control.

Key results. Warren ripping programmes were very successful in reducing rabbit numbers for up to 10 years, whereas rabbit populations that were not managed returned to pre-RHD densities. The most effective warren ripping programmes, which reduced populations to 97% of the pre-RHD densities and maintained them at this level, used heavy, powerful ripping machinery to rip all warrens within 12 months. There was no evidence that the relationship between rabbit population decline and warren ripping was affected by the characteristics of the ripped areas or the follow-up control effort.

Conclusions. Following the spread of RHD in areas where warren ripping is practicable, well-managed ripping programmes provide an immediate solution for achieving and sustaining low rabbit populations.

Implications. The efficacy of RHD in regulating rabbit populations has diminished. The improvement of existing or the development of new biological control agents could take decades. In contrast, coordinated warren ripping programmes provide more predictable long-term reductions in rabbit populations.

Keywords: European rabbit, rabbit haemorrhagic disease, rabbit management, warren destruction.


   
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