Before we begin…we all need to stop, and admire these baby bunnies. Look at all their adorable cuteness. (You’re gonna say aww…) I. JUST. CAN’T.
Ok. You can keep reading now. Seriously though, they are such cute fluffy balls of adorableness!! Anway. Moving on now…
We are learning about Ecology this week in science, and one of the things I thought was really amazing was the Great Australian Bunny Crisis. Yes, it is a real thing. And no, it’s not a crisis about how absoloutely adorable baby bunnies are… But seriously, am I the only one who didn’t know this was a thing?
Australia is famous for many things- the iconic Sydney Opera House, beaches, the Outback and legendary accents. It is also known for its animals- venomous creatures, koalas, kangaroos, but the most prevalent of all: the rabbit.
There are currently over 200 million rabbits in Australia- that’s almost 8 times as many rabbits as there are people in Australia! The most surprising thing is that rabbits are not even native to Australia. In 1859, a wealthy man in Australia named Thomas Austin released 13 European wild rabbits onto his property so he could go rabbit hunting. However, Mr. Austin didn’t think of a couple of important details. One, rabbits have a lot of babies, called kittens. A single female rabbit can have up to 20 kittens in one year! Two, rabbits don’t have any natural predators in Australia.
So, those rabbits began to multiply. And multiply again. And again, and again. Mr. Austin claimed to have shot over 10,000 rabbits, but in just 50 years rabbits had spread all over the continent. The European rabbits easily adapted to Australia, since they only need short grass and ground to burrow in. They soon felt right at home in Australia.
The rabbits began to destroy Australia- literally. They ate crops and destroyed farmland, ate natural groundcover, causing erosion, and they took over the burrows of native animals. In short; it was a big problem.
The government tried to eradicate the rabbit problem in 3 main ways; mechanical, biological and chemical. Farmers built fences to try and keep rabbits out, but usually that just ended up trapping rabbits in those areas instead of keeping them out. They tried poisons, but that wasn’t very successful either.
The most successful way of eradicating the rabbits was biological. Scientists have developed several viruses that only kill the rabbits, and are usually spread by flies or mosquitos. That was effective at first, however, the rabbits soon became immune to the viruses and weren’t affected by it.
Scientists continue to try and develop pathogens to eradicate some of the rabbit population without harming the native animals and plants. Since the rabbits are an invasive species, it is imperative to try and stop them from destroying even more of Australia.
Who knew that 13 rabbits could wreak so much havoc? It’s amazing how easily an ecosystem can be destroyed by just adding in a few creatures or plants that don’t belong there.