An explosion in rabbit numbers has the National Capital Authority twitchy about their impact on the Parliamentary Triangle landscape, calling in contract shooters to try to keep them under control.
It says shooting is more humane than poison, which also threatens other animals, such as predatory birds, feasting on the destructive little critters.
Member for Bean David Smith quizzed NCA Chief Executive Sally Barnes during a parliamentary committee hearing on Tuesday (7 December) about the rabbit issue and what it was doing to manage the situation.
Ms Barnes said that with the above-average rainfall, vegetation was out of control, and so were the rabbits, which are breeding like, well, rabbits.
“Rabbits are always an issue for us,” she said. “We’ve got ongoing management plans in terms of how we work to manage those numbers.”
That includes stripping vegetation to deprive them of cover but not the fumigation of burrows and warrens undertaken outside the Triangle, or the dropping of baits.
“What we do know is some of the larger birds in Canberra, actually rabbits are their natural diet. And in fact, I’ve seen raptors swoop twice and pick up kittens from Kings Park and take them away to nests. So our preference is to minimise the use of poisons.
But the NCA did do some targeted shooting in some places.
“We’re going to be very careful about that,” she said.
Contractors use air guns and thermal imaging in low traffic areas, and the carcasses are given to the zoo.
Fortunately, the NCA had not seen a significant increase in damage to parklands, Ms Barnes said.
But it remains a never-ending battle.
“We have to keep on it. We’ve got an ongoing program. That is to say, I think it’s a problem around a lot of land in Canberra at the moment,” Ms Barnes said.
Committee member WA Senator Matt O’Sullivan could only concur, recalling that the last time he was in Canberra, he nearly collected one while riding his bike.
“They’re certainly feasting on something because it was one of the biggest rabbits I’ve ever seen,” he said.
Rabbits have been around seemingly forever in Canberra, thanks to the colonialists who thought they were a good idea to make the place more like home.
The NCA website says they were in plague proportions when Charles Weston was planting trees in the early years of the national capital.
The Authority works with other land managers such as the ANU, Defence, and the ACT Government, which ran a fumigation program in Gungahlin earlier in the year.
It also released baits in Mt Ainslie, Percival Hill and Duntroon Dairy.
Rabbits are a major pest, causing erosion and other damaging effects on the environment, and cost the agriculture sector more than $200 million a year through lost production.
The release of viruses, starting with Myxomatosis, have helped curb numbers but failed to eradicate them.