Feral rabbit

Oryctolagus cuniculus (Oryctolagus cuniculis; Oryctolaqus cuniculus cuniculus)

Pest group: Animals
Pest type: Mammals

Feral rabbits are small terrestrial herbivorous mammals, often grey-brown and the size of a small cat. They browse on native vegetation and can cause major damage to pasture.


Habitats include grasslands, pastures, shrublands, hill and high country, and coastal habitats.

What you need to know

Heavily browses native seedlings and low-growing plants, alters vegetation composition and suppresses threatened species. Supports increased populations of introduced predators. Can cause major damage to pasture.

Management approach

This is a declared pest managed under the Canterbury Regional Management Plan 2018 – 2038 (PDF file, 10.6MB) within the sustained control programme.

Sustained control

Pests in the sustained control programme vary greatly in their distribution across the region. Some are found in low numbers, while others are already well-established pests.

The intention of the sustained control programme is to reduce the impact on values and spread of a pest onto neighbouring properties.


Land occupiers are responsible for feral rabbit control on their property. Feral rabbit populations need to be kept at level three or below on the modified Mclean scale.

We are responsible for monitoring feral rabbit populations within Waitaha/Canterbury. If we identify a land occupier is not meeting their obligation, we will discuss their options and the actions they can take to achieve this goal for their property.

It is important to the Waitaha/Canterbury community that neighbours are not negatively impacted by another’s inaction for rabbit control. We have an enforcement process available when it’s necessary to ensure that a land occupier meets their obligation to control rabbits.

Modified McLeans Scale

Number Description
1. No signs found. No rabbits were seen.
2. Very infrequent signs found. Unlikely to see rabbits.
3. Pellet heaps spaced 10m or more apart on average. Odd rabbits are seen; signs and some pellet heaps showing up.
4. Pellet heaps spaced between 5m and 10m apart on average. Pockets of rabbits; signs and fresh burrows very noticeable.
5. Pellet heaps spaced 5m or less apart on average. Infestation spreading out from heavy pockets.
6. Signs very frequent with 2–3 pellet heaps often less than 5m apart over the whole area. Rabbits may be seen in large numbers over the whole area.
7. Signs very frequent with 2–3 pellets heaps often less than 5m apart over the whole area. Rabbits may be seen in large numbers over the whole area.
8. Signs very frequent with 3 or more pellet heaps often less than 5m apart over the whole area. Rabbits likely to be seen in large numbers over the whole area.



Certified handler/experienced agrichemical user: Use professional contractors and registered products for rabbits.

Timing is important for using toxins. Mid-autumn to early winter immediately prior to breeding is the optimum time for toxins. From early winter to mid-summer, it is difficult to use toxins effectively due to territorial behaviours during breeding and an abundance of natural food.

Bait shyness can be avoided when correct practices are used. Control history is relevant and if previous control has been unsuccessful, shyness may develop.


Shooting can be done throughout the year as required. For night shooting to be effective at least 70 per cent of the area needs to be accessible.


Fumigation does not require the rabbit to eat bait so is effective in areas where bait shyness is a problem. It is labour-intensive but effective when used in the breeding season to control young rabbits that do not move from the burrow. Phosphine is most commonly used.

Repellents and tree protectors

Several commercial repellents are available. Most repellents will need to be applied periodically as effectiveness reduces. For a repellent recipe visit the National Pest Control Agency website.


Effective fencing will slow the recovery of rabbit populations after control, or allow localised eradication to protect a high-value resource. For details on appropriate fencing materials visit the National Pest Control Agency website.

Habitat modification

You may be able to make areas less suitable for rabbits to live and can be useful for the home garden environments.

Keep your property clear of stacked woodpiles or rubbish in garden areas. Fix small entry gaps under buildings and sheds to prevent them from gaining access. Prune under shrubs and hedges to reduce vegetation that offers rabbits protection from the elements and predators. Maximising lawn areas makes your garden less desirable if there is not much protective cover nearby.


It is an offence to cause unnecessary suffering of animals caught in traps. Trapping is a useful technique for urban areas where other methods such as shooting or poisoning are not suitable.

A live trap is best to reduce the likelihood of killing a domestic animal. The rabbit will need to be killed humanely once captured as releasing it to another location is a biosecurity offence.

A professional pest control operator experienced with trapping may be a good option if you are not able to kill the animal humanely yourself.

Caution: When using any toxins, firearms and trapping, please follow all safety, firearms and animal welfare requirements and regulations.

Biological control

Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD) strain, RHDV1 K5. A vaccine is available for pet rabbits.