Jason Littlefair lays out some pre-feed to tempt the rabbits

Rabbits are out and about in big numbers around Bridgetown, digging up the ground, eating garden vegetable crops, ringbarking young trees and just generally making a nuisance of themselves.

When the cabbages and spinach in our garden started disappearing faster than the Dockers’ 2020 premiership hopes I called Blackwood Biosecurity for help.

Blackwood Biosecurity’s Jason Littlefair arrived with some tasty treats for the hopping horrors in the form of oats which he sprinkled on the ground along the fence line and under the front porch where they’re frequently spotted.

It’s called pre-feeding. The idea is to feed the rabbits a little each day to train them to come and get their tucker regularly at the same place and time.

Dusk is the ideal time for this as it reduces the chances of birds stealing it and it’s when the rabbits are most active.

Pre-feeding also helps Blackwood Biosecurity estimate the amount of treated bait they’ll need to release and assess how much is taken up by other animals.

Having lured them with the promise of a free feed, next comes the duplicitous baiting bit.

Those innocent oats are replaced with oats that have been treated with calicivirus, specifically the K5 strain of the disease.

It’s the latest weapon in a war against the feral pests that were introduced to Australia back in 1859.

Major pest

Originally seen as a handy source of food and an opportunity for a bit of sport, it took just 50 years for rabbits to spread across most of the country and turn into a devastating agricultural pest.

They made history as the fastest colonising mammal in the world.

Myxomatosis cut a swathe through their numbers in the 1950s but failed to eradicate them due to increasing natural immunity in the surviving population.

Australia’s rabbit population and myxomatosis have been involved in a “biological arms race” ever since, with myxomatosis mutating to more potent strains while the rabbits evolve greater immunity to it.

RHDV1 K5, however, is the latest variant of the calicivirus, but unfortunately it’s not been as effective as hoped.

While it’s a useful tool to reduce rabbit numbers locally, it doesn’t spread into surrounding areas as it was designed to do.

Mr Littlefair explained that the key to using it effectively is to get neighbouring properties to release the virus simultaneously which gives you get a greater knockdown.

Rabbit damage: These poor old apple trees are under attack from climbing rabbits

However, some populations of rabbits have already built up an immunity to the strain.

Calicivirus is relatively humane, killing them from 6-36 hours after the first symptoms appear. The rabbits develop “cold-like” symptoms, become lethargic and die. Bad news for the rabbit, but good news for your veggie patch.

Blackwood Biosecurity hopes to be able to release a new, more virulent virus strain next year.

In the meantime a combination of actions is the most effective approach and Blackwood Biosecurity will happily visit you to work out and help you with your options.

If those wascally wabbits are a nuisance on your property Blackwood Biosecurity is here to help. They can be contacted on 0475 774 558 or projects@blackwoodbiosecurity.org.au .