The Rabbit in Australia (1979)


[Loading rifle] [Gun shot] [Loading rifle] [Gun shot] [Loading rifle] [Gun shot] [Bird calls] (Narrator) The story of the European rabbits in
Australia must surely be one of the most amazing
examples up an animal’s ability to colonize a new land. Just how and why this happened makes a
fascinating study. But our story really all begins in Spain. [Dog barking] For many hundreds of years the people who
lived in the villages of southern Spain hunted rabbits for food and sold them in
the marketplace. The landscape around these villages
looks surprisingly like much of Australia. This type this country is thought to be
the original home of rabbits. They thrive in dry sandy soil which is
easy to dig. And the Mediterranean climate of a
short dry summer followed by regular winter rains means that there is always food
for the litters at young rabbits in springtime [Spanish guitar music plays] Here in Spain rabbits have many
predators. The Imperial eagle is one. [Spanish guitar music plays] Wolves or another. [Spanish guitar music plays] So too is the rare European Lynx. [Spanish guitar music plays] It seems that the combined effect of
all these predators, including man kept the rabbits it in check and they never
became a pest in Spain. [Spanish guitar music plays] From earliest times, rabbits were hunted
and domesticated in parts of Europe So it was fairly natural that the Norman
invaders should be amongst the first to bring rabbits into England, sometime after their conquest in 1066. As time passed rabbit farming became a useful means of
supplying meat and fur to the people of rural England. This house was used by a Warrener, who looked after several enclosures that contained specially
constructed mounds for warrens. And holes were often dug by hand to
encourage the rabbits to breed. Warreners in fact used to make a good
living by selling off their surplus animals and so rabbits became very much a part of the
English Way of life. Many domestic breeds were kept in hutches for food and as pets and of course in stories for
the young, rabbits endeared themselves to all. [Music plays] When European settlers began arriving in
Australia during the eighteen hundreds all kinds of domestic animals came with
them. The little colony was to be a copy of their
homeland. [Music plays] It wasn’t long before rabbits were introduced
into the southern part of the continent as a source of food for the setlers. In 1859, the clipper Lightning, arrived from England with 24 wild rabbits. These were shipped to Thomas Austin,
for hunting on his property near Geelong. Here a few years later the visiting Duke of Edinburgh
shot more than 300 in one day and was delighted. By now the surrounding countryside
had been largely settled and the rabbits began to spread. [Music plays] But they weren’t just spreading by
themselves. For a few people soon realised there was
big money to be made from selling rabbits meat and fur and so drovers and trappers
carried pairs of rabbits with them, letting them go in areas well ahead of
the spreading population. In parts of New South Wales the impact
was becoming serious Plagues of rabbits striped the
ground of all cover Very soon much of the best pastoral
country looked like a huge rabbit warren. The economic affect was alarming and sheep numbers fell to half their
previous level. A rabbit drive was the cheapest method
of control. Elaborate fences were built along
state borders but always the rabbits got through. By 1887 the situation was desperate. Then in 1898
came news from South America. In Montevideo, Professor Sanarelli of
the Hygiene Institute discovered a virus which was killing the domesticated rabbits he was using in his experiments. The virus was traced to the local forest
Cottontail which was only mildly affected by it. A few years later Dr Aragao
working in Brazil, suggested to the Australian Government that this myxoma virus could be
used for rabbit control. But the idea of introducing such a
disease into Australia created a lot of opposition at the time
and so the proposal was shelved For the trappers
these look great years. [Harmonica music plays] But all the time graziers we’re fighting a
hopeless battle. At this rabbit drive in 1948, they killed
nearly 5,000 in one afternoon. By now there was strong arguments in
favor of releasing myxomatosis. The disease was proved to be
harmless to man and other animals and so after several attempts to spread
the virus among rabbits, myxomatosis finally got away in
1951 Crops and pastures grew in a way that
hadn’t been seen for years and the national income rose dramatically. Although myxomatosis had spread over
a large area many rabbits still survived and their
numbers were building up again. Obviously myxomatosis was not
the complete answer. By the early nineteen fifties, it became clear that much more had to be
learnt about the rabbit if we were going to get anywhere with our
attempts to control it. And so a complete study of the animal
was begun. Much of the research work took place at observation sites in
different parts of Australia where rabbits could be watched for weeks
at a time in their natural state. (Researcher) Left green orange grazing at L43. Right red pink … (Narrator) On this site the rabbits
were tagged for easy identification. Males on the right ear, females on the left. A colour code system identified each individual. Rabbits are highly social animals and live in small groups of two or three
males and up to six females. They seem to spend a lot of time
doing just nothing Each group occupies an area of land
where they can feed, rest and breed This is their territory which they mark
from scent glands under their chin. Animals of the same sex will oppose
each other at the borders at their territory but actual fighting is not common There are other ways in which all
members of the group mark their territory. As we have seen chinning is one very
effective method Both males and females feel confident on
their home ground and will guard their territory throughout
the year. All rabbits have scent glands which give their droppings a distinctive
smell. This is another way of communication. Sandy soil is preferred about any others
for a warren and a large warren may be the home of
several social groups. Part of the rabbit’s success as a species depends on being able to
live underground where they can escape many predators and cope with the extremes of temperature
which occurred above ground. Successful reproduction depends very much on eating green food and after the
winter rains each pregnant female hollows out
a nest chamber at the end of a burrow. During the last week of pregnancy she brings in tufts of dry grass
to form the nest itself. It takes many trips before
her nest is complete. Pregnancy lasts about 30 days and just before birth
the female plucks fur from her body to line the nest. The young are born with the female sitting up. After cleaning her litter the female will
leave the nest chamber plugging it with soil
to protect the young. She’ll reopen it once each night
to groom and feed them. When the kittens are 10 days old their
eyes are open. They weigh around 120 grams and move about in the burrow. At twenty-one days the young will spend much time at the
entrance of the burrow At this age young rabbits are easily picked
off by foxes, cats or hawks. On this study site
brown hawks were regular predators. All these studies showed that climate has a lot to do with the rabbit’s ability
to survive and breed. Some parts of Australia
are very similar to the western Mediterranean where rabbits are thought to have evolved. Here the climate is ideal for them and each female may have up to seven
litters a year. But such breeding rates are only possible if they have a good supply of
high-protein green food during the breeding season and dry sandy soil
in open country for their warrens. Predators play a big part
in keeping the population down and most of these have been
introduced into Australia. Wild domestic cats kill a
big percentage of all young rabbits. Another introduced predator is the fox. A few native birds of prey live on rabbits catching mainly the unwary young kittens. Although rabbits have adapted easily to
Australia’s sheep and wheat areas there are other parts of the country where
living is much more difficult. In Australia’s alpine areas rabbits must survive a cold winter
with a shortage of green feed. In these areas the breeding season is very short. It begins when the snow melts in spring and finishes in early summer. This means that only two or three litters
are produced by a female each year. In most alpine areas there is a serious lack of sodium
in the soil and plants. On this study site the rabbits were easily drawn to these
experimental salt impregnated pegs. We now know that females with young need 8 times more sodium than normal. So this explains why rabbits
in these areas don’t breed very well. In the dry inland areas of Australia rabbits face other problems. Here they thrive in sandy soils
and after a period of good rain there is usually plenty of green feed. But in this sandy soil
foxes can easily dig into the burrows. Here a nest chamber has been raided
during the night. Stony ground may give rabbits
a little more protection but they still need to be alert
for many other predators such as the dingo. In these arid areas breeding seasons can
be very irregular because of the uncertain rainfall. When there are several dry years
of little or no rain many rabbits will die. But when rain does fall most plants grow very quickly
and the rabbits begin to breed again. In one arid area the warrens were mapped over a number of years and it was
possible to see quite dramatic changes in the rabbit population. This area of land had several different soil types. In 1963 rabbits were found mainly
in the sand dunes and avoided the heavier soils In 1965, the start of a dry spell. 1966 – very dry – rabbits almost gone. 1969 – some good rains and a fairly big
increase in the population By keeping track of falling
rabbit numbers during the dry spell it was easy to rip up the few burrows
where the survivors lived. Ripping at any other time
is not likely to be as successful. Myxomatosis still plays an important part
in controlling the rabbit population This rabbit is infected with the Lausanne strain. It’s killing power is high. Anything which pierces the skin lesions
of an infected rabbit can transmit the disease to other rabbits. The virus will stick to the mouthparts
of mosquitoes and so the disease is carried
from one animal to another. During the 1960s another
carrier of myxomatosis was introduced into Australia, the rabbit flea. The biology of this flea is
closely tied to that of the rabbit itself, so that once fleas become established
in a warren they can be used to transmit the disease
to most of the population. For a long time Australians have used
poisons to keep down rabbit populations Furrow poisoning, if done well,
can be very effective. But we now know that the poison will
only kill those animals in territories which the furrow actually goes through. Other rabbits won’t leave their territories
to reach the bait. But if the poisoning is not done
carefully many of the rabbit’s natural predators
will also be killed and if there aren’t enough predators
left to keep the population in check the problem could get worse
rather than better. Not many animals
have ever been studied in such detail so that we know have a much better
understanding of how rabbits feed, breed and survive
all over Australia. There’s no doubt that rabbits are here to stay. They were brought here by people
who didn’t realise that this country would be so perfect
for them. [Music plays] Because of their great versatility they’ve adapted easily
to all sorts of different environments and have survived, despite all our efforts to get rid of them. [Spanish guitar music plays]

49 thoughts on “The Rabbit in Australia (1979)

  1. "SO FUNNY, at 10:01, very social creatures etc", they seem to spend most of their time doing just nothing, lol, sounds like me these days, the older I get, there more I sit around too ha ha sounds funny. Well wait I spend half my day in my hobbies. I love Rabbits as pets, also other animals so I am VERY against cruelty to animals. However the realist in me is like, yep population control is at "epic/urgent" conditions these days. So I just look away or stop watching anything to deal with anything to do with death to any of my most favorite animals. My old hobbies repeat themselves every few years or so. Now it is HUGE Toads or Frogs, I love em, they are so cute and huge and cool/funny looking. I wish someone in Australia would send me a HUGE cane toad, that that's even legal.

  2. This video was made prior to a continuing realization…many of the early efforts to control rabbits focused on killing rabbits through direct methods. Bad idea! Rabbits are a product of evolution made to rapidly reproduce through huge losses. Since this video rabbits have developed an immunity to the disease control method used. Many direct eradication methods killed predator populations and resulted in variable predator populations that could not grow to even out the rabbit growth. Australia has enough animals that will eat rabbits and can theoretically keep the population in check naturally…but control efforts have hindered this rather than helped it. (We've done this same thing in the US on many occasions in which we make a stupid move introducing a species that becomes invasive, and then attempt to directly eradicate it with disastrous results.)

  3. This is a perfect example of mankind ruining the balance nature has created.

    Sure they meant well by bringing the rabbits but they didn't think it through very well did they?

  4. I used to love bunny shooting as a kid, now there are no more rabbits, what are we going to shoot to feed the dogs? I was talking to a property owner last week were I used to shoot rabbits on his place years ago, he says now there are more Bandicoots than rabbits and spreading ticks.? He would prefer the rabbits, they didn't spread ticks to his cattle.

  5. In 1859, 24 rabbits were released in Australia. Within six years the population grew to 2 million.

  6. I wonder what is a difference between rabbits and humans in eye of nature? They both breeds fast and unbalance the planet earth. Rabbits can be controlled by predators but humans are top on food chain. Will alien come and control the human population ?

  7. my old friend used to poison them with superfast acting poison. they used to get thousands in one night. the whole district was built on rabbit pelts

  8. Introduce foxes. When they get too numerous, take up fox hunting. Sell tickets to the British. Economic boom for Australia.

  9. i love it when we mess with things we claim to fully understand and fuck ourselves over. such a long history of doing this, we're really never going to learn our lesson.

  10. 9:58 "They seem to spend a lot of doing just… nothing."

    Case closed. I was destined to be a rabbit and somehow I ended up as a human…

  11. Australian government is pretty ignorant instead of paying millions of dollars in studies my God just buy a 22 rifle and send your kid out to the backyard I'm pretty sure he can nail enough to make a difference or put a bounty on them instead of spilling billions to bullshitters

  12. The problem with rabbits, is that they are natures major food source, Prey. As such they multiply for many reasons, but the most prolific trigger is fear. Fear in a rabbit or most prey animals causes a preservation response. Fear however triggered, will make a rabbit immediately seek a mate to carry on his or her gene pool before dieing. The responce is why population numbers increase when rabbits are hunted as its natures way of quickly replenishing the ecological food stock. The same is the case for most prey animals including and especially pest insects.

  13. So basicly Australia has a very proud of theyr military history they lost a war against fucking EMUS and got invaded by RABBITS OOOOOOFF!!!

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