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Feral rabbits

Feral rabbits

Updated 1 April 2016 1:43pm

Feral rabbit
Photo: Crown copyright DOC

Why are rabbits a problem?

Rabbits eat a wide range of food including native grasses and seedlings. In combination with grazing stock, rabbits can increase the risk of soil erosion. They directly compete with grazing stock for food, and contribute to the increase of unpalatable weed species. Rabbit grazing also impacts on amenity plantings, commercial gardens and forestry seedlings. Grazing and burrowing can lead to the loss of vegetation cover and soil erosion in native flora and fauna habitats.

Description and background

Rabbits are grey/brown in colour, sometimes black, and are less than half the size of a hare. Rabbits run with their white fluffy tail held up, moving in a distinctive bobbing motion. Ground sign of rabbits include burrows and scratchings, and piles of small round droppings in a heap. Rabbits are often found living in piles of cut vegetation, or ground hugging shrubs. They prefer short grass for browsing, and often found on well grazed sheep or horse paddocks. Rabbits live in pairs, or larger colonies, and can usually be found in the same spot.

Rabbits were introduced into New Zealand from Europe in the 1840s and 1850s to establish a meat and fur industry. They quickly became abundant and destructive to pastoral farming. Since the introduction of rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD), rabbit numbers have decreased, but are still a problem in favourable habitat.

What can I do?

There are a number of options for rabbit control; shooting, poisoning, fumigation, repellents and exclusion fencing.


Nightshooting using a spotlight is a good control option in rural areas, using a .22 rifle or shotgun.


Pindone carrot bait is a slow-acting anti-coagulant poison. It is laid on the ground in areas where rabbits have been grazing and scratching. Greater Wellington can undertake seasonal poisoning operations at cost to the landowner.


Magtoxin gas is a fumigant that can be used to control rabbits hiding in burrows. Using Magtoxin is methodical work, requiring all entrances to a burrow to be sealed with the rabbits inside.


For orchard or amenity plantings, chemical repellents can be sprayed or painted on trees and shrubs to discourage rabbit browsing. Vegetation must continue to be sprayed as the plant grows and weathers.


For urban areas, excluding rabbits from accessing your property or garden is the best long term method of control. Exclusion fences must be a minimum of one metre high and meet the ground securely.

Contact Greater Wellington for more information on any of these control options.

Additional information can be found at:

National Pest Control Agency (NPCA) Best practice guidelines

Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) Rabbits

Landcare Research Rabbits