The rabbit found in New Zealand is actually a native to Iberia known as the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). Originally introduced into New Zealand for food in the 1800s the animals have spread almost throughout the entire country including the Bay of Plenty although the coastal strip between Torere and Cape Runaway is still thought to be rabbit free.
Population levels differ between areas depending on the conditions. Rabbits thrive in habitats which offer:
- light soils
- a sunny aspect
- adequate cover close to feeding areas
- less than 1000mm of rain per year
Rabbits can breed prolifically, hence the saying 'breeding like rabbits', with the doe capable of producing up to 50 young each year. However, out of every 100 rabbits born only around 10 will survive to six months of age and only one or two will reach their life expectancy of three years of age.
Damage caused by rabbits
Burrows are the most common damage but may not always be visible. Rabbits will dig holes and eat the grass on urban lawns as well as paddocks. Plants in vegetable and flower gardens and small trees may be eaten and trees may also be ring-barked by having the bark chewed off by rabbits.
Pet rabbits can be just as destructive as wild ones. It is illegal to liberate pet rabbits.
As rabbits are nocturnal you may not catch them in the act of destroying your property but burrows and plant damage are indicators that you have had an unwelcome visitor. Rabbit droppings can be found in the feeding areas. These are dark, oval-shaped and 8-10mm in length.
Levels of rabbit infestation
Rabbit infestations are measured on the Modified McLean Scale. Information on the scale is described in the Rabbit Policy pamphlet available from Bay of Plenty Regional Council offices. The Regional Pest Management Strategy for the Bay of Plenty requires rabbit infestations to be kept below level 4. However, rabbits at lower levels can still cause damage to property. Bay of Plenty Regional Council animal pest officers can assist with measuring rabbit infestation levels.
Who is responsible for controlling rabbits?
As property owners receive the most benefit from rabbit control they are ultimately responsible for rabbit control. Bay of Plenty Regional Council pest animal officers can provide advice and information regarding control of rabbits.
Methods to control rabbits
For more information
Contact a Bay of Plenty pest animal officer.