Tree farmer fears rabbit plague


A FORMER Christmas tree grower says that the Mornington Peninsula is heading towards a rabbit plague.

Ron Reaper, who ran Santa’s Place on the corner of Moorooduc Highway and Bentons Road, Moorooduc, for 18 years, said he “fought rabbits the whole time and never got them under control”.

Now he fears rabbits are about to get out of control.

“As soon as I cleaned up my place they would come back from other people’s places,” he said.

“We were poisoning them all the time but never got on top of them.”

Mr Reaper said that when the rabbits ran out of grass, they began ringbarking his trees which he then began strapping with protective PVC piping.

He said other baiting attempts, such as using poisoned grain, endangered other animals, including birds.

“Unless something can be done – especially after two good breeding seasons – the whole peninsula will be awash with [rabbits],” he said.

Pindone poison causes internal bleeding and rabbits can take six to 14 days to die. It can also kill small animals and some birds; dogs would need to eat about 90 pellets for it to be fatal.

It is sold under several different commercial names and is just one of many methods used to control rabbits, along with viruses myxomatosis and calicivirus, and 1080 poison.

Professor Sharon Beder, of Wollongong University, says pindone has the potential to kill other animals including humans, pets and wildlife (“Drive to rid golf course of rabbits” The News 10/2/21).

She said it is used in urban-fringe areas in preference to 1080 “because of its slower killing time, and the availability of an antidote, make it less dangerous to use around humans and pets … factors [that] will not prevent the poisoning of wildlife”.

Prof Beder, in a 2011 paper “Pindone rabbit baiting – cruel and careless”, said pindone “kills by interfering with blood clotting, causing fatal hemorrhages”.

She said pindone was poisonous to wallabies, kangaroos, possums, antechinus, bandicoots, owls and other birds of prey, which ate animal carcasses. It is used in New Zealand for killing rabbits, possums and wallabies.

Mr Reaper told Hastings MP Neale Burgess that he had “trouble getting anyone in authority to realise that this rabbit problem is not just a Hastings or Moorooduc problem, it is a problem all over the peninsula”.

“I’ve spent a lot of money on baiting over the past 15 years, to no avail, and when you kill a few rabbits others migrate from other areas,” he said.

After complaints to Agriculture Minister Mary-Anne Thomas, Mr Reaper was contacted by the department’s biosecurity officer and offered information on integrated pest control, such as fencing and buying the K5 virus, but the department took no direct action on the rabbits.

The minister told him pest numbers could only be controlled “when all landholders take coordinated action over a number of years”.

“What I’m seeing now is that we could be at the start of a peninsula-wide plague,” said Mr Reaper.

“As a young bloke I lived through a rabbit plague at Kerang when there were literally millions of them eating through everything.”

While it is illegal to allow wild rabbits to populate a property, he said there were few – if any – Agriculture Department inspectors keeping check on the peninsula.

Mornington Peninsula Shire’s interim director of place Jessica Wingad told The News earlier this month that the shire did “not provide rabbit control services for private property but are happy to assist owners with advice on how to go about it”.

Mr Reaper’s concerns mirror those of Hastings man Colin Fitches who said rabbits were coming from a much larger property behind his 0.809 hectare block on Hodgins Road. (“Landowner seeks help to avoid rabbit takeover” The News 2/3/21).

He warned the situation was so dire “we must act now with a program of control to save our peninsula from devastation by rabbits”.

“I believe we need an eradication program controlled by the Department of Agriculture or the Mornington Peninsula Shire or both,” he said.

“Surely prevention is better than cure.”

With Keith Platt

First published in the Southern Peninsula News – 30 March 2021


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