Pest Animals

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Glenelg Hopkins CMA is committed to the reduction and control of pest animals within south-west Victoria.

Other pest (feral) animals that impact on our environment are camels, deer, goats and pigs.

Pest animals in the south-west include:

  • Rabbits
  • Foxes

Pest

Current annual benefit ($million)

Exotic animals*

72.8
Rabbits
62.0

Pest plants

25.6
Dingoes**
9.4

Other vertebrate pests

1.4

Exotic disease†

0.5
Total

$171.7 million

**

Benefit accrued from both Animal and Plant Control Commission and Dog Fence Board activities.

† The proportion of the notional cost attributable to feral animals of insurance against the entry into Australia of an exotic animal disease.

[Animal and Plant Control Commission Annual Report, 2001]

Pest Animals

The Glenelg Hopkins CMA is responsible for establishing priorities for natural resource management in the region on behalf of the community. Management of rabbits is identified as a high priority activity in the Glenelg-Hopkins Regional Catchment Strategy.

The importance of rabbit control is well documented. State Government’s desired outcome is to minimise the environmental, social and economic impacts of rabbits for community benefit. Government endorsed land and water management plans in the Glenelg-Hopkins Region consistently identifies rabbit control as a necessary precursor to the effective implementation of recommended land management options.

The Glenelg Hopkins CMA through its partnership arrangements with the Department of Natural Resources & Environment (DNRE) is required to develop a five-year Action Plan for rabbit management. This Action Plan forms an attachment to the RCS and will be used by the Glenelg Hopkins CMA, which is responsible for directing resources and emphasis to where strategic rabbit management will occur. The Plan incorporates priority actions from the National “Draft Threat Abatement Plan” for competition and land degradation by feral rabbits. The Threat Abatement Plan was prepared as a requirement of the Endangered Species Protection Act 1992.

Strategic rabbit management requires the community to adopt techniques that ensure long term control. The Action Plan identifies warren destruction as the major activity in all integrated control programs. Community groups will be encouraged to develop their own local action plans in priority areas. The Glenelg Hopkins CMA in partnership with NRE will support the direction of such plans within priority areas.

Rabbit Impact

Rabbits are recognised as the most serious vertebrate pest in Victoria, responsible for major environmental and agricultural damage. Rabbits are a major factor in the loss and reduction of many native plant and animal species by causing detrimental habitat change and direct grazing competition. Indirectly rabbits cause intensified predation of native animals by cats and faxes when rabbit numbers crash following fluctuating seasonal impacts (Lovick pers comm).

Economic impact of rabbits within the region is estimated at 38.82 million dollars in lost agricultural production annually (Burke, pers. Comm.). This includes direct competition for available pasture with cattle and sheep and browsing of cereal and horticultural crops and forestry plantations. Destruction of seedlings varies according to species, rabbit numbers and other available food. While rabbits prefer more palatable non-eucalypt species they may take up to 80% of a newly established eucalypt plantation (Lovick pers.comm.). Evidence from a plantation company establishing blue gum plantations in the Central Highlands RMU reports that of 50,000 tubestock planted on one site, 20,000 needed to be replaced as a direct result of rabbit damage within 12 months (Anderson, pers.comm.).

Environmental impacts of rabbits are well documented, but attributing an economic cost to that damage is difficult and unreliable. Rabbits impact negatively on the regeneration of native species. They eat seedling tubestock and contribute to soil erosion through over grazing and burrowing activity. It is difficult to quantify economic and environmental costs of this activity. The impact of rabbits on land, water and biodiversity is suspected to be significant, even at very low densities. For example, rabbit density at three per hectare in the Coorong National Park on the coast of South Australia prevent the regeneration of Acacia Longifolia and the sheoak, Allocasuarina verticilliate (Cooke, 1987 in Williams, et al 1995).

The effect of rabbits in preventing regeneration of native plants is not always obvious. In fact there may be no safe rabbit density for some tree, shrub and herb seedlings, particularly within 200 metres of rabbit warrens (Williams, et al 1995).

The infestation of rabbits throughout the Glenelg-Hopkins region is an enormous problem, only with the cooperation of landholders, managers and users will the tide be turned.