Common name: Rabbit
Scientific name: Oryctolagus cuniculus
Management programme: Sustained control
Rabbits are the #1 pest in Otago. They were introduced to NZ in the 1800s for meat and hunting, but without any predators, quickly became a pest. Unfortunately for Otago, they love it here, and conditions are perfect for them in Central Otago.
Why are they a pest?
Rabbits are a serious threat to our biodiversity and environment. They ruin beautiful landscapes with rabbit holes, and cause soil erosion and degradation. Ten rabbits can eat as much grass as one sheep, which affects pastoral production. They destroy gardens and eat tree seedlings and veges and they breed like, well, rabbits. Rabbits as young as five months’ old can have up to 50 babies a year and may be pregnant for 70% of a year! Ouch!
What do they look like?
Rabbits are a small mammal, grey-brown or sometimes black in colour. They can be 34-50cm in length and can weigh about 1.1-2.5kgs.
Click here to see images
Where can they be found?
Rabbits prefer grassland habitat at low altitudes, lots of sun and not a lot of rain. That’s why Central Otago is so perfect for them and one of the reasons numbers are so high there.
What are the rules?
- All land occupiers must control feral rabbits levels on their land to level 3 or below on the Modified McLean Scale (MMS 3).
- There is also good neighbour rules for rabbits. If you are controlling feral rabbit levels to at or below MMS 3 within 500m of your property boundary, then your neighbours must do the same if they receive written direction from an Authorised Person. This is so your hard work doesn’t go to waste if a neighbouring property isn’t doing their part. Good neighbour rules bind all landowners including the Crown (e.g. Department of Conservation, Land Information New Zealand).
- You must not discharge a firearm within or across a property before or during a control operation using bait unless under the instruction or supervision of an Authorised Person. This will scare all the rabbits and render the operation mostly ineffective.
Click here to view the full rules from our Regional Pest Management Plan
Modified McLean Scale
The Modified McLean Scale (MMS) is a scale used by councils to determine rabbit levels. It helps with regulation to make sure landowners are managing rabbit numbers to a level set in the Pest Plan. Otago’s Pest Plan has set the scale for Otago at a maximum of level 3.
As a rule of thumb, if you see groups of rabbit droppings less than 10 metres apart, there’s a problem and you need to take action.
No sign found. No rabbits seen.
Very infrequent sign present. Unlikely to see rabbits.
Pellet heaps spaced 10m or more apart on average. Odd rabbits seen; sign and some pellet heaps showing up.
Pellet heaps spaced between 5m and 10m apart on average. Pockets of rabbits; sign and fresh burrows very noticeable.
Pellet heaps spaced 5m or less apart on average. Infestation spreading out from heavy pockets.
Sign very frequent with pellet heaps often less than 5m apart over the whole area. Rabbits may be seen over the whole area.
Sign very frequent with 2-3 pellet heaps often less than 5m apart over the whole area. Rabbits may be seen in large numbers over the whole area.
Sign very frequent with 3 or more pellet heaps often less than 5m apart over the whole area. Rabbits likely to be seen in large numbers over the whole area.
How can I control them?
Rabbit management needs to be coordinated and ongoing. Control options need to be tailored to the size, type and location of your property. Before taking action, consider all practical strategies and seek expert advice to ensure that you choose the most effective method(s) for your property.
We strongly recommend that you develop a plan for managing rabbits on your property long term rather than reacting only when numbers reach crisis levels. More information about the different control methods currently available is provided below.
Primary and secondary control
Depending on the severity of the rabbit problem on your property, you may need to engage a professional contractor to undertake primary control in the form of baiting using Pindone carrot (see below) to provide an initial knockdown of rabbits. A good contractor will advise the best time of year to do this (usually winter) and discuss any other factors that may impact the result e.g whether or not you have a good fence.
Baiting 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. Following up primary control with ongoing secondary control methods to address the last remaining rabbits, and installing and maintaining a good fence (including a gate), will extend the effectiveness of any work that you undertake.
Secondary control methods include:
- Long netting
- Hand digging or blocking up burrows
- Habitat modification
Ongoing monitoring will help you to assess the effectiveness of any control methods used and will also help to detect and address any future rise in rabbit numbers before they become a problem again.
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, the 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.
Cylinders of rabbit netting, plastic netting or sheet steel guards are also useful for protecting young trees or shrubs from rabbits.
An effective rabbit poison is the anticoagulant, Pindone. This is available in bait form as Pindone pellets or Pindone carrot. Pindone carrot is used in winter, as this is when food sources are most scarce and fewer young rabbits are present. To be effective, Pindone bait needs to be ingested by rabbits over several nights of feeding.
Pindone pellets can be dispensed in bait stations by anyone provided they follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Please follow this link for further information of how to use Pindone pellet effectively.
Pindone carrot baiting and broadcast of pellets outside of bait stations can be very effective, but can only undertaken by the holder of a Pindone Users Training Certificate and/or Controlled Substance License (CSL).
Because there is an effective antidote (Vitamin K1, phytomenadione), Pindone can be used in more closely settled areas where other poisons cannot be used due to the potential risk of poisoning domestic livestock and pets. The antidote for Pindone is available from veterinarians either as an injection or as a tablet. However, dogs and livestock must not have access to areas where Pindone bait stations are located.
Ideally you will be undertaking control work in collaboration with your neighbours but if not, you should warn them when you plan to undertake a poisoning operation.
An ideal habitat for rabbits is easily found on a lot of properties like gardens and lawns with short grass, garden sheds, wood piles or dense vegetation that provide cover.
Habitat changes to make your land less desirable for rabbits can have a more permanent impact on rabbit numbers than other methods such as poisoning.
You can do this by:
- removing any piles of wood, rubbish or vegetation that offer rabbits protection from the weather and predators
- pruning the bottom of shrubs and hedges so they don’t provide a suitable shelter for rabbits
- ensuring that any gaps under buildings and sheds are blocked to prevent rabbits from gaining access
Fumigation is a labour-intensive control method and should only be used as a part of a wider strategic plan to keep rabbit populations low. It is best used to control medium- to low density populations or in conjunction with other methods such as a follow-up after poisoning.
To effectively fumigate a rabbit warren, you need to be able to identify and seal off all entrances. This may require a coordinated approach across multiple properties and as with any poison operation you should warn your neighbours if you are going to undertake work.
Fumigation can be carried out at any time of year, but it has the greatest long-term effect if done shortly before the commencement of the rabbit breeding season (late winter to early summer).
Fumigants are poisons used to kill rabbits in their burrows. When a fumigant is introduced to a burrow system it produces toxic fumes, which are inhaled by the rabbits causing death by absorption through the lungs.
The main advantage with using fumigants is that the operator does not have to rely on the rabbit eating poisoned bait. It is also a very effective method of controlling young rabbits which don’t wander far from their burrows.
Fumigation using Magtoxin
Magtoxin is a solid fumigant that reacts with water vapour from the soil and air to release a poisonous and flammable gas called hydrogen phosphide. This gas is heavier than air, and flows down the burrow. Engaging a professional contractor to do this work is recommended, but if you are undertaking the work yourself please note the following:
- Follow the Magtoxin directions carefully. If used correctly, fumigation will kill all rabbits in a burrow.
- Make sure you follow all safety precautions carefully, including handling and storage instructions.
- Be aware of the symptoms of poisoning and the recommended first aid treatment.
- Many burrows have more than one entrance so make sure you locate all of them.
Note that Magtoxin will only work in burrows and is not suitable for rabbits living in piles of rocks or under buildings.
You can find more information on fumigation in our guide here.
Depending on the level of infestation, regular shooting can effective in keeping rabbit numbers low. Engaging a professional contractor to do this work is recommended, but if you are undertaking the work yourself please note the following:
- You cannot shoot a rifle in urban areas
- You must hold a firearms licence
- You can use an air rifle without having a firearms licence if you’re over 18 years of age and follow safety precautions
- Check out https://safershooting.co.nz/nz-police/
- Contact neighbours before carrying out any shooting
- Make sure you positively identify your target before shooting
- Shooting is most effective at night, when the sky is overcast and there is little or no wind
- Return to areas where rabbits may have been missed and, if possible, approach from a different direction
Trapping is time-consuming when compared with other methods, but can be useful for lower rabbit numbers. Trapping is only recommend as an option for those with relevant experience. The law states you must check traps at least once every 24 hours. Check with your local council that traps are permitted under by-laws.
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.
How do I find an appropriate contractor?
Ask neighbours or other nearby landowners for their suggestions. You can also contact your local biodiversity or farming group, or one of our Biosecurity Officers.
What questions should I ask the contractor before employing them?
A good contractor should be able discuss options for permanently reducing rabbit numbers (i.e. long term control) rather than just focussing on immediate gains (i.e. short term control). A good contractor will also be able to answer the following:
- What is their experience? Have they undertaken programmes in the local area before?
- Are they authorised to use chemicals e.g. do they hold a CSL?
- Do they have protective clothing and equipment?
- Can they direct you to previous clients who will vouch for their work?
- It is recommended if hiring a contractor, you encourage them to conduct a site inspection to obtain an accurate quote.
What information will the contractor need from me?
Your contractor may ask:
- What your short and long term goals are
- Where and what is the damage
- Location of rabbit feeding areas
- Location of burrows
- Location of any woody or spiny weeds
- Whether the neighbours have feral rabbits
- Rabbit numbers: small or large population
- What treatment you would like to use on your property
- Whether there are any methods that you are opposed to
- Where you want them to work on your property
- An indication of budget available
- Location and type of wildlife on your property – such as native birds, stock or pets
If you’re unable to provide this information, recommend the contractor inspects the site. If they don’t ask at least some of these questions, it is worth seeking additional quotes.
How do I know if the contractor is using best practice rabbit management?
At a minimum, the contractor should be able to outline:
- A method for primary treatment to provide an initial knockdown of rabbits (e.g. baiting)
- They should also be able to inform you about:
- Methods for follow-up secondary treatment to address any rabbits left behind after the primary treatment
- Likely success of any treatment methods discussed
- Realistic expectations in the absence of good fencing (if applicable)
The contractor may also outline how to assess changes in active burrows, rabbit abundance, plant germination and recovery, spotlight counts, and before-and-after photos.
How do I detect if rabbits are re-establishing on my property?
You will see evidence of active rabbit behaviour such as fresh new scratchings (freshly turned soil), fresh droppings (black and shiny), reopened or new burrows created, vegetation attacked, and crops grazed. In time, more burrows will be reopened or dug.
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, they are no silver bullet and ongoing rabbit management is needed to keep numbers down.
In 2018 a controlled release of the RHDV1 K5 (K5) virus around New Zealand, led by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), took place. This is a different strain of RHDV but not a new virus. The K5 virus is only harmful to rabbits and doesn’t affect any other animals. It was hoped that this new strain would provide enough of a knock back for landowners to get on top of rabbit control. Results are still being studied by Landcare Research as the viruses will continue to work into the future.
For more information on the K5 virus, go to:
Click here to see an information sheet on the RHDV1 K5 virus.
The RHDV2 virus has been confirmed in New Zealand. Cases of this have been picked up as part of monitoring the effectiveness of the controlled calicivirus K5 release. Biosecurity New Zealand will continue the surveillance programme to help us understand the new strain's spread.
Steps pet and farmed rabbit owners can take to minimise the risk
There are a number of practical steps rabbit owners can take to minimise the risk to their rabbits of contracting a rabbit virus.
- Controlling insects (especially flies and fleas) as much as possible both indoors and outdoors. Flies are the main vector through which the virus is spread.
- Remove uneaten food on a daily basis as to not attract flies.
- Keep pet rabbits indoors where possible.
- Rabbit-proof backyards to prevent access by wild rabbits.
- Regularly decontaminate equipment and materials (eg. cages, hutches, bowls) with either 10% bleach or 10% sodium hydroxide. Leave for 10 minutes, then rinse off.
- Limit contact with and handling of unfamiliar pet rabbits. Take special precautions if attending any events where unfamiliar rabbits are present, such as petting zoos, rabbit shows and rescue centres.
- Use good biosecurity measures (eg. wash hands, shoes and clothing) after handling other people's rabbits.
- Isolate new rabbits for 7 days before introducing to other rabbits.
- Rinse all leafy greens well before feeding them to rabbits. While feeding rabbits leafy greens remains a risk for introducing rabbit viruses, the benefits of feeding these is considered to outweigh the risks.
The RHDV2 strain is unique from the RHDV1 K5 virus so ensure your pet rabbits have been immunised with the vaccine Filavac to protect them against RHDV2. Please see the information Biosecurity New Zealand have put together regarding:
Authorised Person – for the purposes of our pest plan an authorised person is a warranted officer under the biosecurity act, for example one of our biosecurity officers
Land occupier – An occupier is the 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 3.3.1 section 3.3.1 of the pest plan.
Sign – this is referring to rabbit holes, disrupted vege gardens, any evidence of rabbits being present.
Regional Pest Management Plan feral rabbit rules
- Plan Rule 220.127.116.11
An occupier within the Otago region shall control feral rabbit densities on the land they occupy to at or below Level 3 on the Modified McLean Scale.
- Plan Rule 18.104.22.168 Note: This is designated a good neighbour rule
An occupier within the Otago region shall, upon receipt of a written direction from an Authorised Person, control feral rabbit densities on their land to at or below Level 3 on the Modified McLean Scale within 500m of the property boundary where the occupier of the adjoining property is also controlling feral rabbit densities
at or below Level 3 on the Modified McLean Scale within 500m of that boundary.
- Plan Rule 22.214.171.124
Other than under the instruction or supervision of an Authorised Person, no person shall discharge a firearm within or across a property prior to a control operation involving bait or where a control operation involving bait is being undertaken on the property to manage feral rabbits.
A breach of any of these rules creates an offence under section 154N(19) of the Biosecurity Act.
Pindone Liquid Baited Carrots for Rabbit Control
Wild rabbits are a big problem in our region - which is why we are teaming up with Mainland Vector Contracting and Excell Pest Control to facilitate the delivery of baited carrot to the boots-on-the-ground professionals who are doing their bit to rid our environment of this pest.
The Otago Regional Council is facilitating suitably qualified* individuals/groups access to pre-cut and pindone liquid baited carrot in order to better manage rabbit populations in the region.
We have partnered with two contractors to make baited carrot available for the 2022 winter control season. If you wish to purchase baited carrot please contact either of the following two companies directly:
Mainland Vector Contracting Ltd
Pre-cut and pindone liquid baited carrot available for purchase in 28kg bags from pre-arranged locations in both Coastal Otago and Cromwell, Central Otago
For more information, or to order, contact:
Mainland Vector Contracting Ltd
Phone: 027 462 6214
Different pick-up locations can be arranged depending on quantities ordered.
Excell Pest Control
Pre-cut and pindone liquid baited carrot available for purchase in 25kg and 300kg bags from Cromwell, Central Otago
For more information, or to order, contact:
Excell Pest Control
Phone: 021 874 017
* Purchasers must hold an Approved Use for Pindone Certificate. If transporting more than 250kg, a Dangerous Goods Licence is required.