In most states landholders have a legal obligation to control wild rabbits on their property as they are classed as a pest animal. There is a range of different methods used to control rabbits, however the RSPCA is concerned that none of these methods are without animal welfare problems and in many cases, rabbits will experience severe to moderate suffering prior to death. This article provides some basic advice on how to reduce the impacts of rabbits in a semi-rural setting and outlines the most humane control methods available for small-scale rabbit control.
To be effective, rabbit control should be conducted in an integrated way, which means adopting a range of complementary control strategies in cooperation with neighbouring landholders. Efforts should be concentrated on reducing the impact of rabbits rather than just focusing on killing rabbits in the short term. Long-term control involves an initial effort to reduce rabbit numbers then destroying warrens and removing harbour (e.g. fallen logs, blackberry bushes) to prevent re-establishment in the same location. Excluding rabbits from potential food sources can also help to manage impacts.
Rabbits can be difficult to control even when they are in small numbers, and there are very few available methods that are inherently humane. However, it is possible to improve the humaneness of a control program by ensuring that it is carried out at the most appropriate time and in accordance with best practice. Irrespective of the method used, it must only be carried out by a skilled and competent operator.
Where rabbits need to be killed, shooting by a competent shooter is one of the most humane methods available, however it is very time consuming, labour intensive and only effective for small-scale control. Cage trapping followed by killing through cervical dislocation is another option, but this method also has limitations. Traps must be well-designed to avoid injury and checked at least every morning (and preferably last thing the previous night) – traps should be only set at sundown and then released after sunrise. Do not set traps unless a competent person can humanely kill the rabbits without delay as cervical dislocation is only humane when performed by operators who are trained and experienced in performing this procedure. Baiting with pindone is often recommended for rabbit control in semi-rural areas where 1080 cannot be used, but the RSPCA does not consider this as an acceptable control method as poisoned rabbits can suffer for several days prior to death.
You can find links to more detailed information about different rabbit control methods and their humaneness at the following Knowledgebase article: Where can I find information on best practice management of wild rabbits?
On a small property, the best way over the long term to prevent rabbits from damaging your plants and from digging is to fence them out. This requires a solid or mesh fence with a dug-in section of small-gauge wire at the bottom. Gates will require a concrete or brick base below the gate to prevent rabbits from digging under the gate opening. Individual trees can be protected by wrapping wire mesh around the base of their trunks. Small plants can be netted and wood piles regularly moved or placed on solid ground. Windrows are a common location for rabbit burrows so should be cleared and levelled.
The following links provide information on assessing the impact of rabbits and applying rabbit control on-farm or in semi-rural areas. Please note that some of the methods recommended in these documents are listed as only ‘conditionally acceptable’ in the Model Code of Practice for the Humane Control of Rabbits as they do not result in a rapid and pain-free death: