Rabbits, the surprisingly interesting “tail” of this invasive species

Thinking of rabbits creates images in one’s head like Easter, adorable floppy-eared pets, Trix cereal and for some, a delicious meat.  One of my favourite, although tragic, Australian history bits involves rabbits and how these cuddly little creatures managed to impact Australia forever. (Intriguing music: dun dun duuuuun!)

Rabbits are NOT native to Australia.  They were introduced into the ecosystem back in 1859 when Thomas Austin felt that bringing 12 rabbits from England to his property in southeastern Australia would make for a joyful sporting experience.  However, anyone who knows anything about bunnies knows that they multiply exponentially.  Not even the best hunter could keep up with the expanding numbers.

By 1907, plague of rabbits reached from the west coast of Australia to the east coast (think California to New York–yikes!).  It was the fastest spread of any colonising animal in the world.

The little monsters destroyed vegetation–that even now will never grow back–and with the lack of vegetation, much of the other native wildlife became in danger of survival.  They created a food shortage for Aussies, eating much of the vegetation and crops used for both humans and livestock.  This also created a financial crisis for many farmers.  So plans had to be made to control the ever increasing population.

Watch out bunnies!

Many methods were utilized: hunting, trapping, poisoning.  Eventually, rabbit fences were constructed, but during the height of bunny pandemonium, the bunnies would  be so thick against the fences, that they used one another as a ladder to jump over to the other side.  Rabbits are also known to climb, so this did little to impact the population and keep them off farm property.  It didn’t help that many of the fences never were completed.  Oops.

In 1950, a mosquito-borne virus called myxomatosis (that’s quite a word) was created that only affected the rabbit populations and not humans or native Australian wildlife.  This managed to kill 99.9% of the rabbit population.  Happy ending?  Not so much.  As the rabbits evolved, they became immune, and the virus mutated into a less deadly affliction, thus, the problem wasn’t completely gone, not even today.

A rather abundant amount of bunnies in Australia

So that’s a little tid-bit of a most interesting problem in Australian history.  As the Easter season approaches, general thoughts of prancing bunnies delivering eggs hops into our minds, but these precious images masquerade the destruction that rabbits can inflict.  Who would have thought it?  (intriguing music again: dun dun duuuuuuuuuun!)



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2 responses to “Rabbits, the surprisingly interesting “tail” of this invasive species

  1. Robbie Doyle

    Hello My name is Robbie Doyle and I am an Irish student studying environmental mgmt. at DIT. I am currently in the middle of a dissertation titled: How widespread is myxomatosis in the rabbit population in Ireland. If you know of any reports that have been carried out about myxi could you please e mail me at robbie.doyle@student.dit.ie

  2. Pingback: A Year in Review: Best Student Blog Posts of 2011 | gostudyinaustralia

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