Bunny Pain: Pet not Pest
Rabbits deemed as "pests"
Rabbits are deemed under the Australian law to be pests (vertebrae pests). They are mainly killed by methods that would be considered inhumane and illegal under anti-cruelty laws if they were applied to companion animals.
Below is a summary of the law and control agents used against rabbits which also affect our companion animals. For a full description, contact us for our report.
It is lawful in Australia for rabbits to be poisoned, infected with disease, hunted or caught in steel-jawed traps. Species deemed as ‘pests’ may be excluded from the operation of the anti cruelty acts and be regulated through a Code of Practice, or their harm may be authorised by another piece of legislation. For example, the most common rabbit control options aim to eliminate rabbits using poisons, fumigants or other specialised methods such as warren ripping, shooting or trapping.
The Rabbit control techniques are said to have to be humane and comply with animal welfare legislation under the code of practice and standard operating procedures . This code of practice however is stated to be a guide only and does not replace or override the legislation that applies in the relevant state or territory jurisdiction.
In 1950 the CSIRO released the myxoma virus. Myxoma is a disease that is known among vets to cause immense suffering to the animal: affected rabbits can take a fortnight to die and treatment is futile, which is why euthanasia is usually recommended.
Classic myxomatosis symptoms start with runny eyes. The genitals are also usually swollen. It quickly progresses to become severe conjunctivitis which causes blindness, along with lumpy swellings on the head and on the body. The eyes become swollen shut due to excessive amounts of thick pus discharge .
If an unvaccinated pet rabbit catches myxomatosis, it will almost certainly die. Vaccination is a vital part of a protective measures which are urged to be taken by vets outside Australia. Although myxoma vaccines exist in the UK and Europe, they are not allowed in Australia.
In 1991 the Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV1), a calicivirus, was brought to Australia as a rabbit biocontrol agent.
The disease infects many organs including the lungs, gut and liver of the rabbit. This in turn causes acute liver damage which can kill the rabbit within 48 hours. There is currently one vaccine released in Australia, known commercially as Cylap HVD. This vaccine however is not effective against the RHDV2 strain of the rabbit calicivirus which was discovered in Canberra in 2015, and later confirmed in Victoria and NSW.
A new Korean strain of calicivirus, K5 virus, is due for release in Autumn 2017, when adult rabbit numbers are at their peak and conventional work such as warren ripping and fumigating is carried out.
Although Pindone is clearly labelled inhumane by the RSCPA, this poison along with 1080 are the main poisons used to control rabbits in Australia.
Rabbits who ingest Pindone show signs of lethargy, depression followed by anorexia, anaemia and bleeding. Bleeding around the nose, mouth, eyes and anus with bloody faeces are common symptoms. Pain and discomfort set in due to bleeding of the internal organs. These symptoms last 10-14 days before death. Pindone restricts the routine synthesis of vitamin K-dependent blood clotting factors in the liver which damages the normal daily function and repair to blood vessels.
Landcare groups encourage the use of Pindone and hold workshops in it while councils are encouraging community involvement in distribution of this poison.
Common signs of 1080 poisoning in rabbits include lethargy, laboured respiration and increased sensitivity to noise and disturbance. Convulsions occur accompanied by gasping and squealing. Death follows 3-4 hours later.