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Rabbits

Rabbits are a popular choice of pet in the Tweed and can make rewarding companions if they are housed securely, handled properly and given the right kind of attention. However, free-roaming/wild populations of domestic rabbits are popping up across the Shire and causing big problems. These domestic Rabbit populations originate from pets that have either escaped or been dumped by their owners.

Domestic and European wild rabbits are the same species and readily interbreed. Rabbits breed very quickly. They can breed from three months of age, and each litter generally contains 4-7 baby rabbits. To put it in perspective, one pair of rabbits can produce 30-40 rabbits a year.

Rabbits cause severe land degradation and soil erosion by digging holes deep into the ground and eating not only the tops of plants but the roots as well. They graze on native seedlings and shrubs to the extent they cannot regenerate, reducing habitat for threatened species. Rabbits compete with livestock and wildlife for food and water. Rabbits are increasingly becoming an urban problem as residents report that rabbits are damaging gardens, undermining house footings, destroying house termite barriers and attracting wild dogs, foxes and brown snakes closer to human habitation.

Rabbit populations stemming from domestic origins are known to exist at Chinderah, South Kingscliff, Casuarina, Koala Beach, Bilambil Heights, Tumbulgum, Condong, Murwillumbah, Tyalgum and Limpinwood.

The information below is for residents who want to buy a rabbit, surrender a rabbit or need advice on controlling rabbits.

What do I need to consider before buying a rabbit?

· Rabbits live up to 10 years and require the same level of care as dogs and cats

· They require six monthly vaccinations against the calicivirus RHDV1 K5

· You can purchase/adopt a rabbit from the volunteer organisation, The Rabbit Sanctuary (external link). Rabbit Sanctuary rabbits come desexed, vaccinated, and socialised and can be returned at any stage.

· Rabbits escape easily and can be very hard to catch. Keep your rabbit inside or choose a sturdy enclosure that rabbits cannot dig out of.

· Rabbits dig holes in lawns.

· Pet rabbits need to be desexed. Desexing is one of the best ways to prevent rabbit outbreaks so even if they do escape they cannot breed. The RSPCA has low cost desexing options for low income earners. Call (07) 55365135 for information.

Penalties apply for the release or dumping of rabbits

Under the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 (P5 Div.1 Sect. 2.6 (1)) liberating a rabbit can attract fines up to $88,000. Abandoning an animal under the NSW Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 (P2 Sect.11) can result in 6 months jail.

Surrendering a pet rabbit

The Tweed Shire Council pound does not accept rabbits. The Rabbit Sanctuary will take domestic rabbits for rehoming. Together with the RSPCA all surrendered rabbits are desexed, vaccinated, microchipped and then rehomed. The Sanctuary can also provide advice and support for rabbit owners. For more information see the The Rabbit Sanctuary (external link) .

Preventing rabbit outbreaks

In an effort to reduce the need for lethal control Council are providing information to residents and pet shops about selling and keeping rabbits.

Methods of controlling rabbits

Biological control

In March of 2017, phase one of a 20 year long-term rabbit biocontrol pipeline strategy was implemented with the national release (at more than 550 sites) of a Korean strain of Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus, known as RHDV1 K5. RHDV1 K5 is not a new virus; it is a Korean variant of the existing virus already widespread in Australia. The new strain of the rabbit biological control calicivirus RHDV1 K5 may be released in Tweed Shire in late 2017.

Rabbit owners are advised to have their rabbit vaccinated against the virus every 6 months to reduce the chances of their rabbit catching the virus. Rabbit owners can also protect their pets against the virus by ensuring their pets do not come into contact with wild rabbits or eat grass that has been grazed on by wild rabbits. The virus can be transmitted by fleas, mosquitoes and flies, so if your rabbit is not vaccinated, try to ensure hutches are insect-proof.

For more information on the release of this biological control, please visit Pest Smart RHDV K5 (external link) or contact the North Coast Local Land Services (external link).

Trapping rabbits

Residents can borrow cage traps from Council by contacting 02 66 702400. Please also refer to the Rabbit Trapping Guidelines (395kB PDF). Trapped Rabbits can be surrendered to the Rabbit Sanctuary for rehoming (see above) or euthanised. Methods of euthanasia that are acceptable to this program are those outlined by the NSW DPI (external link). You can also contact your local vet or a registered pest control operator.

Monitoring rabbit populations in Tweed Shire

Residents can record rabbit activity in their local area on the Rabbit Scan (external link) app.. This is a free resource that can be used to view where rabbits have been recorded, population size and evidence of disease. The site also lists releases of the recent calicivirus RHDV1 K5.

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