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      Oryctolagus cuniculus (Photo: CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, Australia) - Click for full size   Oryctolagus cuniculus erosion and physical disturbance (Photo: CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, Australia) - Click for full size   Oryctolagus cuniculus in burrow (Photo: CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, Australia) - Click for full size   New South Wales-South Australian border in the early 1990s (Photo: Peter Bird, South Australian Animal and Plant Control Commission) - Click for full size   Erosion and physical disturbance (Photo: CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, Australia. - Click for full size
    Taxonomic name: Oryctolagus cuniculus (Linnaeus, 1758)
    Synonyms: Lepus cuniculus Linnaeus, 1758
    Common names: Europäisches Wildkaninchen (German), kaninchen (German), lapin (French), rabbit (English)
    Organism type: mammal
    Native to southern Europe and North Africa, the rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) has been introduced to all continents, except Antarctica and Asia. In many countries, rabbits cause serious erosion of soils by overgrazing and burrowing, impacting on native species that depend on undamaged ecosystems.
    Description
    Grey-brown fur and white-grey belly. Adults 1000-2000 g. Two pairs of upper incisors; the second smaller incisors are behind the first, a feature that distinguishes leporids from rodents. They are smaller than adult hares.
    Occurs in:
    agricultural areas, desert, natural forests, planted forests, range/grasslands, ruderal/disturbed, scrub/shrublands, urban areas
    Habitat description
    Desirable features of ideal rabbit habitat include an annual rainfall of <1000mm, a sunny aspect, light soil, and adequate cover close to feeding grounds kept closely grazed. Although rabbits can tolerate higher rainfall, they do so only on light soils and where other animals help to maintain a short sward. In wetter areas, rabbits favour dunelands, dry stony riverbeds, limestone hills with outcropping rocks, and sunny coastal slopes. They usually avoid cold and wet conditions, and are absent from alpine lands, unbroken scrub, and heavily built-up areas (Norbury and Reddiex, 2005). Although usually an animal of open country, in New Zealand rabbits have survived in low numbers on a few forested islands where the forest is low and not very dense (SPREP, 2000).
    General impacts
    Rabbits cause severe damage to the natural environment and agricultural areas. They compete with native wildlife for food and shelter, and contribute to a decline in the numbers of many native plants and animals. They can also enhance negative impacts on native species by supporting large populations of predators such as cats and foxes. They cause extensive erosion through browsing and loss of plant cover and often destroy the habitat of many small animals. Rabbits also compete with livestock for food (Courchamp et al. 2003; Norbury and Reddiex, 2005).
    Uses
    Valuable to humans as a domestic and game animal, rabbits were often released onto islands in the past as a food source for marooned sailors (Berman, 2002).
    Geographical range
    The rabbit was originally confined to the Iberian Peninsula and was first transported around the Mediterranean by Phoenician traders. Rabbits were domesticated in French monasteries between AD 600 and 1000 and domestic rabbits probably reached Britain in the twelfth century (the young were considered a delicacy) and were later spread throughout the British Isles, and to other islands in the north-east Atlantic. Much later, rabbits were put ashore from ocean-going sailing ships in South Africa (from Holland) in 1654, Chile in the mid eighteenth century, the Falkland Is in 1764, New Zealand in 1777, and Australia in 1788 (Norbury and Reddiex, 2005). Rabbits have been introduced to over 800 islands so far for reasons ranging from a food source for shipwrecked sailors to a source of amusement for tourists. Introductions have varied in success from complete failure to populations so large that they destroy almost all vegetation on the island (Flux and Fullagar, 1992).
    Introduction pathways to new locations
    Acclimatisation societies: In the 19th and early 20th century, Acclimatisation Societies in Australia and New Zealand brought rabbits from Great Britain in an attempt to transplant the mother country to the new colonial frontier.
    Other: If put ashore for shipwrecked people they usually died out, but they persisted on some islands.
    Ship: Sailing ships in the 18th and 19th century sometimes carried live rabbits for food.


    Local dispersal methods
    Natural dispersal (local):
    Management information
    Management options include fencing, warren ripping, baiting, fumigating and biological control with myxomatosis, rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus and fleas as vectors (Moseby et al. 2005; Richardson et al. 2007). Rabbits have been eradicated from a number of islands including Enderby Island (710 ha) in the Auckland Islands group (NZ), Phillip Island (190 ha) in the Norfolk Island group and Round Island (151 ha), Mauritius. Both the Enderby Island and Round Island campaigns used brodifacoum as Talon 20P® baits. Merton (1987) gives details of the Round Island operation including bait preference and acceptance trials, and tolerance of reptiles to the anti-coagulant poison used. Details of the successful operation on Enderby and Rose Islands are available in Torr (2002).

    Preventative measures: Risk Assessment models for assessing the risk that exotic vertebrates could establish in Australia have been further explored by the Western Australia Department of Agriculture & Food (DAFWA) to confirm that they reasonably predict public safety, establishment and pest risks across a full range of exotic species and risk levels.
    The Risk assessment for the European Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), has been assigned a VPC Threat Category of EXTREME.
    Mammals and birds were assessed for the pest risk they pose if introduced to Australia, by calculating Vertebrate Pests Committee (VPC) Threat Categories. These categories incorporate risk of establishing populations in the wild, risk of causing public harm, and risk of becoming a pest (eg causing agricultural damage, competing with native fauna, etc). The 7-factor Australian Bird and Mammal Model was used for these assessments.

    Physical: Shooting of rabbits is an inefficient method of control but unlike poisoning it does not kill predators of rabbits such as cats. Where rabbits are present with other grazing animals, removal of the latter will often result in the growth of rank vegetation unsuitable for rabbits; this can be used as a method of partial rabbit control.

    Chemical: In New Zealand, poisoning has most often been carried out with compound 1080 added to carrots or oats and spread from the air. On small islands, acute poisons such as phosphorus, cyanide, strychnine and compound 1080 are all likely to kill non-target species. Second-generation anti-coagulant poisons such as brodifacoum have been used successfully against rabbits although precautions are often necessary to protect non-target species (Flux 1993).

    Biological: In 1998, a virus, rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD, formerly called RCD), was introduced to New Zealand illegally. In some areas it has killed many rabbits, but whether it will continue to be effective in the long-term is doubtful. Myxomatosis, a contagious and often lethal disease specific to rabbits is sometimes suggested for rabbit control. This not only requires flea or mosquito vectors but causes considerable suffering to the animals affected. Furthermore, eradication by such means is unlikely. Atkinson (SPREP 2000) does not recommend use of either RHD or myxomatosis on Pacific islands. Flux (1993) examined the relative effectiveness of various methods of rabbit control using a sample of 607 islands distributed throughout the world. The main finding was that competition from hares was twice as effective at clearing rabbits off islands as predation by cats or from myxomatosis.

    Nutrition
    Rabbits eat grass and other herbaceous vegetation. They need a diet of less than 40% fibre, 10-20% protein for maintenance, and 14% protein for reproduction. They can be very selective in their choice of food, practise coprophagy, and ferment food in the hind gut.
    Reproduction
    Placental. Sexual. Rabbits have an endogenous reproductive cycle mainly modulated by day length and nutrition.
    18-30 young per female adult per year. Females as young as 3 months can breed.
    This species has been nominated as among 100 of the "World's Worst" invaders
    Reviewed by: David Berman, Department of Natural Resources, Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia.
    Compiled by: IUCN SSC Invasive Species Specialist Group
    Updates with support from the Overseas Territories Environmental Programme (OTEP) project XOT603, a joint project with the Cayman Islands Government - Department of Environment
    Last Modified: Wednesday, 26 May 2010


ISSG Landcare Research NBII IUCN University of Auckland