HUNTERS: Shane Lampard and Shane Teske have been on patrol for the Somerset Regional Council catching rabbits in the area.
HUNTERS: Shane Lampard and Shane Teske have been on patrol for the Somerset Regional Council catching rabbits in the area. Rob Williams

Council ramps up war on invasion of rabbits

THEY may look cute and cuddly but rabbits have become a major environmental problem in the Somerset region.

Approximately 1000 of the pests have been caught or killed by Somerset Regional Council pest management in the past 12 months.

Rabbits are trapped and baited while calicivirus is used during winter to control the population of the pests.

Council pest management supervisor Shane Lampard said rabbits damaged farmlands, ate stock feed and drove away native animals.

"We're in a spring breeding cycle right now so numbers are increasing," he said.

"Rabbits' burrows cause erosion; they eat a lot of grass which lessens the feed for cattle.

"That's not even mentioning the environmental damage they do. They're very territorial and will chase off native animals quite ferociously."

The council patrols have been ramped up in recent weeks to trap rabbits and identify infested areas.

Areas surrounding Toogoolawah, Esk and Coominya have all been rabbit hotspots in recent months.

Rabbit calicivirus and myxoma virus are used when possible to control rabbit populations biologically.

The myxoma virus was released in Australia in 1950 in an attempt to control the population.

While the disease killed around 500 million rabbits in two years when first released, a genetic resistance has lessened the disease's effectiveness.

A second disease, calicivirus, was released in 1996 to combat increasing immunity.

Somerset mayor Graeme Lehmann said the council invests more than $30,000 every year into rabbit eradication and control.

"Council is committed to playing a lead role in the management of these pests," he said.

Mr Lampard said he believed the war against rabbits was on the way to being won. "It's a big battle, but we are winning."

First arrivals

  • Rabbits were brought to Australia by the First Fleet in 1788.
  • The current infestation has been credited to Victorian farmer Thomas Austin, who released 24 rabbits in 1859.


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