Rising rabbit numbers have Australian greens seeing red

Wed Aug 11, 2010 7:15am EDT
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By Belinda Goldsmith

CANBERRA Aug 11 (Reuters Life) - With rabbit numbers on the rise across Australia, conservationists are seeking to educate a new generation about the dangers posed by one of the country's worst pests and rally support for a third, nationwide assault.

Rabbits were introduced to Australia in 1859 when a farmer let 24 loose in the state of Victoria as a shooting sport but the fast-breeding animals quickly spread with a pair of rabbits able to produce up to 184 rabbits in 18 months.

By 1890 rabbits were at plague numbers and by the 1920s their numbers had reached an estimated 10 billion.

In the 1950s Australian scientists released the disease Myxomatosis to bring numbers under control and in the mid-1990s followed up with the Calicivirus that again cut rabbit numbers.

But Jenny Quealy, a community conservationist who has just written a book about rabbits in Australia, said numbers were rising again and it was time to prepare a new assault.

Figures show rabbits cause an estimated $206 million of damage a year to agriculture, threaten native animals by eating their food and bringing predators to their areas, and degrade the environment by causing soil erosion and water pollution.

"There is an element of success in our battle of the rabbits and so the issue really went off the radar," Quealy told Reuters.

"But any viral control only has a shelf life of 10 to 12 years and if you don't keep the research going and work on the next viral update you'll find the rabbits fight back and there is another major growth. We're getting into the critical zone now."   Continued...