Canberra’s furry problem of surging feral animal populations, including rabbits, has featured in a parliamentary hearing that was told that target shooters have been deployed in some cases to control numbers.
Public servants from both the federal and ACT governments have been working to solve the issue of growing numbers of rabbits feasting off an abundance of grasses and weeds following a wet year.
According to reports by the ABC, rabbit populations have been a persistent problem for Canberra but the wet La Niña weather cycle has seen numbers noticeably increase. The problem is especially visible within the parliamentary area.
On Tuesday, National Capital Authority CEO Sally Barnes told a parliamentary hearing that poisons were not a viable option because they risked affecting larger birds higher up the food chain.
“In fact, I’ve seen raptors swoop twice and pick up kittens [baby rabbits] from Kings Park and take them away to nests,” Barnes said, adding that avoiding poisons limited practical options for government agencies.
“We do some targeting shooting in some places. We’ve got to be very careful about that … we have to keep on it,” she said.
The need for target shooting has grown with the rabbits’ population boom. Shooters with air rifles are brought in for the job and use thermal imaging to spot the pests. Culled rabbits are then given to the local zoo.
A rabbit calici virus that was introduced in the north of the city in 2007 was determined to have been unsuccessful in driving down population numbers and scientists say they are responsible for contributing to the extinction of some local plants and animals.
In fact, Canberra’s rabbit problem existed before the land was chosen to be the nation’s capital in 1912, and the NCA website records a history of the region as having a ‘plague-proportion’ rabbit problem after European settlement in the 1820s.
“Charles Weston’s successful ‘greening’ of Canberra in its foundation days made an unparalleled contribution to the achievement of a unique national capital. The Weston legacy is the creation of Canberra as a ‘city in the landscape’,” the NCA website reads, with ‘greening’ efforts also including rehabilitation of the degraded land on account of pest rabbit populations.
On Tuesday the ABC also reported that one of Canberra’s three MPs, David Smith, noted that he had fielded a number of complaints from constituents about the damage caused by the pest rabbits.
Large groups of the rabbits can be found nearby Lake Burley Griffin and WA senator Matt O’Sullivan expressed ‘shock’ about the number he had observed on a recent trip to the capital.
“They are certainly feasting on something because they’re the biggest rabbits I’ve ever seen,” O’Sullivan said.