Rabbit numbers continue to soar

THEY’RE cute and cuddly, but they could also pose a serious threat to Iluka’s pristine neighbouring national park.

The village’s population of rabbits is reportedly booming and, despite their appearance, the big-eared fluff-balls have the potential to turn into environmental vandals, impacting on native vegetation and wildlife if numbers escalate out of control.

A visitor to Iluka’s Riverside Tourist Park at the weekend, Ian Thomson, said he believed the rabbit population had ”exploded”.

“I spoke to a gardener who said they tried to poison the rabbits, but it was like giving them Viagra,” Mr Thomson said.

“They just kept breeding.”

North Coast Livestock Health and Pest Authority senior ranger Dean Chamberlain said the Iluka rabbit population had existed for “a long time”.

“Every now and then you get a few extras,” he said. “It’s the perfect place for them.”

Mr Chamberlain said there were plenty of habitats’ in and around the general Iluka area, as well as a good supply of “ideal rabbit tucker” – freshly-cut green grass.

He said the protein contained in “good, fresh, green pick” brought on breeding in rabbits.

While the rabbits could be baited, he did not believe it would produce an overall downturn in their numbers due to their geographically widespread population.

“The numbers might go down initially, but two months later you’re going to have them back again,” he said.

“They’re going to stay at a level which will be fairly constant, whether they are baited or not.

“You can’t control them on a wider scale.”

Mr Chamberlain said because of the damage they caused, including eating through people’s carefully grown vegetables and flowers, rabbits posed a dilemma in any built-up area.

“That’s why people notice them and people complain,” he said. “Urban rabbits are a bigger problem than rural rabbits.”

A National Parks and Wildlife Service spokeswoman confirmed rabbits were a pest.

“They can damage native vegetation,” she said. “They compete with native wildlife as well.”

The spokeswoman said while the rabbits had not yet posed a risk to the nearby Bundjalung National Park, control measures – including baiting and closing of rabbit warrens – were in place should any spread.

Riverside Tourist Park co-manager Lynne Wright, who has lived in Iluka for two-and-a-half years, said the rabbits were “all over town”, but did not believe numbers had increased recently. “You drive up the street and you’ll see them jumping around,” Mrs Wright said.

She said while there were “a few holes here and there” at the council-owned tourist park, which she filled and covered when they appeared, she did not believe the rabbits to be a big problem.

There were signs that read “Do not feed the rabbits”.

“Sometimes people do feed them; they think they’re cute,” she said.

Clarence Valley Council’s environment and open spaces planner Peter Birch confirmed the council had received reports regarding rabbits at Iluka.

“We do have some issues there,” he said.

He said council would be making contact with the Rural Lands Protection Board to discuss what action was necessary.

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