Objective 4 – Increase engagement of, and awareness by, the community of the impacts caused by rabbits, and the need for integrated control
The success of previous rabbit control, predominantly due to the effectiveness of biocontrol agents, has resulted in rabbits losing some of their profile in the community as a major pest species (Williams et al. 1995; Cox et al. 2013). This has reduced the general awareness of rabbits as a problem, which has often resulted in diminished support in the community for ongoing rabbit research and control (Williams et al. 1995; Cox et al. 2013). Fewer government officials with rabbit control responsibilities has also reduced the opportunities for direct public engagement and awareness raising.
As a step towards engaging stakeholders and raising their awareness of the impacts caused by rabbits, educational material (e.g. manuals and videos on monitoring impacts and control techniques) has been developed. However, effectively collaborating with the community so that land managers get the skills necessary to recognise environmental impacts of rabbits (particularly at low levels) and be able to undertake effective management still needs further development and ongoing effort. This should include learning from communication techniques used by effective local groups. In addition to this, different audiences will need to be engaged via different methods and emphasis will need to be placed on the benefits of individual and group contributions.
Williams et al. (1995) and Adams (2014) found that for groups to successfully engage in the management of rabbit control, there needs to be:
a high degree of local community understanding of the nature and extent of rabbit damage
a respected rabbit expert for the local community to go to
group reinforcement through peer pressure and good communication
clear, identifiable and shared goals
synchronisation of control efforts, and
strong support from local and state pest management authorities.
Key actions for Objective 4 include ensuring better communication, engagement and awareness with and between land managers on the threat of rabbits to native species and other ecological processes, and how the use of integrated management methods can further reduce rabbit numbers. Successful rabbit management relies heavily on community understanding and adoption of best practice rabbit management principles. Achieving successful rabbit management relies heavily on community engagement and, to bring about any level of change, authorities need to engage with the particular community to understand the underlying values and behaviours of those land managers. Only then will they be able to stimulate change. Experienced community groups can assist others in this process.
Action 4.1 seeks to develop further training programs to help land managers (particularly supervisors and those planning local and regional programs) to evaluate and adopt control methods appropriate for local/regional conditions, and determine in what circumstances and when they should be used. This should include an assessment of any unintended consequences of a control program, such as predators switching from taking rabbits to native animals. These training programs should provide land managers with the skills to recognise an increase in rabbit populations, prior to substantial damage being caused (see Cooke 2012a). Training should also focus on providing contractors with specialised skills to operate machinery to conduct control activities more cost-effectively over a range of properties. Train-the-trainer approaches may be useful and will allow knowledge and experience to be passed on to other land managers.
Action 4.2 focuses on engaging with the community, raising general awareness of the impact of rabbits, and garnering support for the use of control tools. This should include:
raising awareness that more than 0.5 rabbit per hectare can significantly reduce the recruitment and regeneration ability of many native plants
aiming to reduce community reliance on biocontrol agents as the only control tool for reducing rabbit numbers, and
promoting the use of new biocontrol agents and humane control tools.
As part of action 4.2, specific communication campaigns will need to be developed for any new biocontrol agents proposed for release, or other new control methods. By bringing the community onboard with proposed actions, there is a greater chance of achieving effective and coordinated rabbit control within these areas. It will also help reinforce how their contributions are valued and the benefit these actions can bring to their community and surrounding environment.
Action 4.3 seeks to promote the adoption of model codes of practice and standard operating procedures for the effective and humane management of rabbits (Sharp & Saunders 2012). This helps to ensure that rabbit management follows best practice and is undertaken humanely by land managers through adequate consideration of available control methods. In undertaking this action, it will be important for those promoting these codes of practice and standard operating procedures to acknowledge that relevant state and territory and occupational health and safety legislation must also be adhered to. Model codes of practice and standard operating procedures should be developed for management tools as they are developed. Updating these documents will be necessary when new information is available.
Action 4.4 aims to determine the barriers to uptake of conventional and integrated control methods by land managers and how best to increase uptake of best practice control methods. This will involve understanding a wide range of perceptions and motivations for rabbit control activities, including limiting factors which may need to be overcome. This action has linkages to action 4.2 and 4.1.
Land managers are able to recognise damage from an increasing number of rabbits and implement best-practice control methods at the most effective time.
Contractors have skills to operate specialised machinery and undertake rabbit control activities.
The general community has an increased interest in the control of rabbits.
There is an increased use of standard operating procedures and codes of practice for the effective and humane management of rabbits.
Priority and timeframe
4.1 Develop further training programs to help land managers adopt locally appropriate monitoring and control methods.
• supporting the use of best practice, humane, cost-effective and integrated rabbit control methods.
High priority, long term - ongoing
Community support for the management of rabbits.
Further education materials developed and utilised. Community groups, land managers and government assisting each other to improve rabbit management.
Government, land managers, community groups, members of the general public
4.3 Continue to promote the adoption of the model codes of practice and standard operating procedures for effective and humane management of rabbits.
High priority, long term
Rabbits are not subjected to unacceptable suffering during control operations.
Rabbit control actions undertaken are humane and effective, while showing a measurable reduction in the number of rabbits.
Further education materials to promote the codes and procedures developed and utilised.
Model codes of practice and standard operating procedures developed for new management tools.
Government and land managers
4.4 Undertake research into the barriers to uptake of best practice control methods, and how this may be addressed.
High priority, short term.
An increase in land managers adopting best practice rabbit control.
Research papers on social and behavioural aspects of rabbit control are published.
Research is translated into actions that address the barriers to uptake by land managers.
Researchers and Government.
Duration and cost of the plan
This plan reflects the ongoing nature of the threat abatement process, given that there is no likelihood of national rabbit eradication in the near future. In general, most rabbit control programs aim for long-term suppression of rabbit populations, and a reduction in damage to the environment and agricultural assets in the most cost-efficient manner.
This TAP provides a framework for undertaking targeted priority actions. Budgetary and other constraints may affect the achievement of the objectives of this plan, and as knowledge changes, proposed actions may be modified over the life of the plan. The Commonwealth is committed, via the EPBC Act, to implement the threat abatement plan to the extent to which it applies in Commonwealth areas. However, it should be noted that the Australian Government is unable to provide funding to cover all actions in this threat abatement plan across all of Australia and requires financial and implementation support from stakeholders. Partnerships amongst and between governments, non-government organisations, industry, community groups and individuals will be key to successfully delivering significant reductions in the threats posed by rabbits.
Investment in many of the TAP actions will be determined by the level of resources that stakeholders commit to management of the problem.
Given the extent of rabbits across Australia, an indicative estimate of the costs involved to undertake control actions outlined in this plan are provided below. It is important to note that the cost of controlling rabbits will continue to rise if rabbit populations are not continually managed and are allowed to increase due to favourable environment conditions and increasing resistance to RHD. The costs provided will also be highly variable depending on the location (including habitat and soil type), and availability of skilled contractors or persons able to assist with control activities. An indicative site size has been chosen as 300 hectares; however, site sizes may range from less than a hectare (e.g. a small cemetery with a single warren) to thousands of hectares on a rangeland station. Anyone looking to implement an action is strongly recommended to undertake their own budget exercise for their particular circumstances and outcomes sought.
Costs anticipated or known at the time of TAP development for action items
Estimated total cost across TAP
$52 per hectare using 1080 oat baits (Cooke 2012a)
Annual cost of $7,800,000 at 500 sites of 300 hectares each across Australia.
$5000–10,000 per week for ground shooting at a single site using professional shooters. Use of appropriately trained and assessed volunteer shooters (e.g. SSAA National) would cost considerably less than this.
Annual cost of $400,000 – $800,000 for 8 weeks of control at 10 sites across Australia. Less if volunteers are utilised.
$3000-4000 per week for trapping at a single site.
Annual cost of $240,000 - $320,000 for 8 weeks over 10 sites across Australia.
Fumigation of warrens
$56 per hectare using aluminium phosphide tablets (Cooke 2012a).
Contractors typically charge $70 per hour and would require >1 hr to treat warrens in a moderate to high density over 1 hectare. Two-three visits may be required.
Annual cost of $1,680,000 for fumigating 100 sites of 300 hectares across Australia for aluminium phosphate tablets.
Annual cost of approximately $6,000,000 for contractors for 100 sites of 300 hectares.
$40 per hectare where there is a moderate infestation of rabbits (Cooke 2012a); $69 per hectare using a bobcat backhoe at steep sand hills with dense scrub: (Cooke 2012a)
Annual cost of $6,000,000 - $10,350,000 at 500 sites of 300 hectares across Australia.
Exclusion fencing (using 30mm or smaller mesh)
$5000 per kilometre to construct (Lowe et al. 2003).
$10,000 per year for maintenance and monitoring of a 10 km2 site.
$1,000,000 for construction of fences around 5 sites of 10 km2 across Australia.
$250,000 for ongoing maintenance of these 5 sites for 5 years.
Monitoring and surveillance activities.
Costs will be dependent on the type of monitoring used i.e. camera traps may be less expensive than physical monitoring.
On average, $4000 per site.
Aerial survey using a helicopter and video cost 90 cents per hectare on the Hay Plains, NSW.
Monitoring repeated every 3 months at 50 sites $600,000.
Release of biocontrol agents
$52 per hectare using oat/carrot baits
Annual cost of $1,560,000 across 100 sites of 300 hectares in Australia.
$210 per hectare (based on using a combination of control methods). This does not involve integrated control for other pest species.
Dependent on size of island. Per island: $210,000 for smaller islands (approx. 1,000 hectares) to $2,730,000 for larger islands (approx. 13,000 hectares).
Research projects, including development of new control tools and models.
$250,000 annually per researcher
Additional costs for registrations and production of the product/biological control agent. Note: these costs will be dependent on the complexity and number of registrations required, and costs to produce the product/agent.
To be determined for each project, model or control tool.
Social research into barriers for rabbit control.
$200,000 including community engagement.
Prioritisation of rabbit control areas
$100,000 for initial regional reviews of areas per state/territory
$800,000 plus additional funding for finer scale prioritisation.
Development of coordinated reporting mechanisms
$50,000 per state/territory
Development of management plans
$10,000 for each regional plan
$200,000 for 20 regions.
$200,000 per state/territory for general promotion per year. This amount may decline as material can be reused and education levels rise.
Additional $200,000 per state/territory for releases of new biocontrol agents.
$1.2 million per state/territory over 5 years.
$10,000 to $100,000 to develop different materials and programs.
$2000 to $100,000 for delivery.