Wildlife Research Wildlife Research Society
Ecology, management and conservation in natural and modified habitats
RESEARCH ARTICLE

How can warren destruction by ripping control European wild rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) on large properties in the Australian arid zone?

D. Berman A B , M. Brennan A and P. Elsworth A

A Robert Wicks Pest Animal Research Centre, Biosecurity Queensland, 203 Tor St, Toowoomba, Qld 4350, Australia.

B Corresponding author. Email: david.berman@deedi.qld.gov.au

Wildlife Research 38(1) 77-88 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WR09178
Submitted: 22 December 2009  Accepted: 30 January 2011   Published: 15 March 2011

Abstract

Context: For over 100 years, control efforts have been unable to stop rabbits causing damage to cattle production and native plants and animals on large properties in arid parts of Australia. Warren destruction by ripping has shown promise, but doubts about long-term success and the perceived expense of treating vast areas have led to this technique not being commonly used.

Aims: This study measured the long-term reduction in rabbit activity and calculated the potential cost saving associated with treating just the areas where rabbits are believed to survive drought. We also considered whether ripping should be used in a full-scale rabbit control program on a property where rabbits have been exceptionally resilient to the influence of biological and other control measures.

Methods: Rabbits were counted along spotlight transects before warrens were ripped and during the two years after ripping, in treated and untreated plots. Rabbit activity was recorded to determine the immediate and long-term impact of ripping, up to seven years after treatment. The costs of ripping warrens within different distances from drought refuge areas were calculated.

Key results: Destroying rabbit warrens by ripping caused an immediate reduction in rabbit activity and there were still 98% fewer rabbits counted by spotlight in ripped plots five months after ripping. Seven years after ripping no active warrens were found in ripped plots, whereas 57% of warrens in unripped plots showed signs of rabbit activity. The cost of ripping only the areas where rabbits were likely to seek refuge from drought was calculated to be less than 4% of the cost of ripping all warrens on the property.

Conclusions: Destroying rabbit warrens by ripping is a very effective way of reducing rabbit numbers on large properties in arid Australia. Ripping should commence in areas used by rabbits to survive drought. It is possible that no further ripping will be required.

Implications: Strategic destruction of warrens in drought refuge areas could provide an alternative to biological control for managing rabbits on large properties in the Australian arid zone.

Additional keywords: European rabbit, pest control, warren ripping, arid Australia.


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