Effective rabbit management requires coordination and continuity. Tailor control methods to your property's specifics, engaging professional contractors as needed. Develop a long-term plan to keep rabbit numbers low, instead of reacting to crises. 

Rabbit fencing

Fencing your property can be expensive, but it is an effective way to protect your land and to maximise the effectiveness of any control work that you undertake. To be effective, a rabbit fence should:

  • be at least 600 - 900mm high (the higher the better)
  • be made from galvanised wire netting (plastic can be eaten through)
  • have a mesh size no larger than around 40mm 
  • have the bottom of the fence buried at least 150mm into the ground or bent as an apron and pegged/stoned in the direction that the rabbits will attempt to enter
  • be regularly checked for signs of rabbits climbing, digging or making holes and repaired/maintained accordingly

Gates should be kept closed when not in use, preferably with a concrete sill under them to prevent rabbits from squeezing their way underneath.

Alternatively, rabbit netting can also be used to prevent rabbit movement under or around the gate.

Cylinders of rabbit netting, plastic netting or sheet steel guards are also useful for protecting young trees or shrubs from rabbits.



Primary control

Primary control is used as an initial knock-down for rabbit numbers. Primary control can reduce rabbit numbers significantly but will never eradicate the population completely, and if the remaining rabbits are not addressed then rabbit numbers will bounce back.

The most common form of primary control is poisoning.

Secondary control

Secondary control measures can be used as a follow up to primary control to help address the last remaining rabbits, or as an on-going maintenance tool to keep rabbit numbers low. It is important to note that installing and maintaining a good rabbit fence (including a rabbit netted gate), will maximise the effectiveness of any control work that you undertake by reducing reinvasion from adjacent areas.

The most common secondary control methods are listed below, and more information about each is given in the following subsections:

  • Habitat modification
  • Fumigation
  • Night shooting

Other secondary control methods include ripping / burrow destruction, trapping, ferreting, long netting and dogging.

Working with contractors for effective rabbit control

You can employ an individual or a business to undertake or support you with rabbit control on your property. Having a reliable contractor with the right skills and equipment is important for effective control; and having some knowledge yourself of how to manage rabbits and what to expect from a good management plan will give you better results.

Community-led rabbit management programmes


The aim of these programmes is to support communities to develop and maintain a strategic long-term management approach to rabbit control rather than a reactive one-off control approach.

To achieve this, the focus is on facilitating a coordinated community approach and educating community about the benefits of implementing a strategic approach, starting with a primary control operation followed by implementing ongoing secondary control methods.

This approach is more likely to result in a long-term reduction in rabbit numbers and sustained control.


RHDV virus

Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV) also known as rabbit calicivirus disease was introduced to New Zealand illegally in 1997. Although viruses can provide a good knock back in numbers, ongoing rabbit management is still needed to keep numbers low.

In 2018, a controlled release of the RHDV1 K5 virus around New Zealand took place, led by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI). The effectiveness of the virus on feral rabbit populations is still being studied by Manaaki Whenua - Landcare Research. The RHDV1 K5 virus is only harmful to rabbits and doesn’t affect any other animals.

The RHDV2 virus has been confirmed in New Zealand. Cases of this have been picked up as part of monitoring for the controlled RHDV1 K5 release. Biosecurity New Zealand will continue the surveillance programme to help understand the new strain's spread.

For more information on the RHDV virus

Rabbit monitoring and management


The Otago Regional Pest Management Plan 2019-2029 (RPMP) identifies feral rabbits as a pest animal to be managed under a sustained control programme. To implement a sustained control programme, and monitor the efficacy of this programme, ORC currently undertakes night count and day inspection monitoring. Opportunity for improvement to the programme and monitoring methodologies was identified in 2021. In addition, the establishment and facilitation of community rabbit programmes, to address rabbit management in peri-urban and urban areas, requires revision of current monitoring methodologies to be fit for purpose for smaller property areas.

ORC commissioned two external reviews of the current ORC rabbit monitoring methodologies and tools and invited recommendations for improvement and development. These recommendations were synthesised alongside staff feedback and used to develop an action plan for night count and rabbit density monitoring; inspection and night count monitoring analysis; virology and serology; proneness and climate change; networking and engagement; and strategy and management. Implementation of this action plan is underway.

Monitoring rabbits in Otago

Review of rabbit management initiatives





Authorised Person – under the Biosecurity Act 1993 an Authorised Person is authorised to administer and enforce the provisions of the Act, for example an ORC Biosecurity Officer.

Land occupier – an occupier includes a person who physically occupies the place, whether they own it or not. For example, if you are renting a house owned by someone else that does not live on that property, you are the occupier. You can see more about the responsibilities of occupiers (including owners) in section 3.3.1 of the Regional Pest Management Plan 2019-2029.

Neophobic – neophobia is the fear of anything new.

Sign – any evidence of rabbits being present, such as burrows, scratchings or scat.