European rabbits in Australia: an invasive species
By: Kaela Wong
It is safe to say that everyone knows that rabbits are fast producers. But, how fast is fast? European rabbits have been plaguing Australia for over 150 years, but what was the cause for this? Was it accidental, intentional, or sabotage? There are many questions that I had of how and why these adorable bunnies have been so treacherous in the Australian food web. Although extremely small, these rabbits have caused permanent damage to the ecosystem with their mere presence. What could something so cute, small, and (what appears to be) harmless do to an entire country, of not only people but also food chains as well?
European rabbits can be found all over Europe, northwestern Africa, South America, New Zealand, United States, Australia and are just the main areas they reside in. However, they are not found in Southern South America, West Indies, Madagascar, and the majority of the islands Southeast of Asia. Rabbits tend to live in areas where they can burrow in with lots of producers, such as grass, flowers, and grassy weeds. Or, in places where they were introduced and turned into an invasive species. Unfortunately for the farmers of Australia, rabbits can live in almost any terrain. They can live in the woods, forests, meadows, grasslands, deserts, tundra, and even the wetlands.
The problem with certain situations is that there is no full, exact, evidential truth. There are only multiple sources that state similar things. However, the main points of the story are the same. A hunter by the name Thomas Austin, initially from England, was bored with the game in Australia and decided to have bunnies and other game from England shipped to Australia, in hopes of having a more familiar game. Within a decade of Austin releasing (or the bunnies escaping from an enclosed property owned by Austin as one source states), the rabbits’ numbers had grown exponentially. So much so, that Australians could hunt rabbits annually and kill two million in total, without even damaging their numbers.
Upsettingly, the effects were done within that first decade; numbers of the pig- footed bandicoot, greater bilby, and many other organisms/ producers were decreasing astronomically. Even farming and livestock numbers are suffering in Australia because all of the rabbits are eating the grass that the farmers allow their livestock to free graze. Rabbits (one extremely well-known fact) can reproduce immensely. In fact, at just three months of age, they can reproduce, reproducing up to four times a year, with an average of three to eight baby bunnies (otherwise known as kittens or kits) per litter. Hypothetically speaking, if there were 12 females and 12 males in one group (bunnies are social animals and live in groups called colonies) and in one pregnancy per rabbit, there would be 8 kits per female. That would equal 96 kits just for 12 females and each rabbit couple mated 4 times per year that would equal 384 kits just for one year of mating for 12 rabbit parents! If you (my reader) don’t want to do the math, rabbits’ pregnancies last about a month and mate about every three months. Therefore, it is extremely evident of how European rabbits’ numbers are exponential, especially (like in Australia) these rabbits don’t have any natural predators to keep their population in check.
The European Rabbit has affected the lives of people because as I stated previously, livestock numbers are decreasing because of starvation, but those that haven't died of starvation are thinner due to lack of food. Another problem is the fact that when the rabbits eat, they also cause erosion and when the dirt is uplifted, the dirt goes into the water, affecting the water ecosystems. Another issue with the rabbits causing erosion is that the dirt, that was once perfectly fine for gardeners is now not effective. Considering it has been over a century since the rabbits invaded Australia, the Australian government has still haven't found a way to kill or otherwise remove the rabbits. However, during the early 20th century, they tried introducing mosquitoes, flies, and fleas with diseases that only affect the rabbit population. However, the rabbits eventually built an immunity to the diseases and started to repopulate quickly.
As much as I have grown to like rabbits (due to such extensive research), I do believe that all of the rabbits should go extinct in Australia alone especially bearing in mind that the rabbits (although adorable) have caused the Australian government such problems. I truly doubt that (after decades of attempts) that will ever fully happen. Just remember, although cute and cuddly don’t let them outside!