Monday, 12 January 2009

The Importance of Quarantine -or- How Australia got Rabbits

On arrival into Australia, you may wonder why there is a cute little dog walking around baggage claim sniffing everyone’s luggage, or why the very last step before exiting customs is having your bags x-rayed. If you happen to forget that you have an orange on your person and are mercilessly charged a fine of $200 because you forgot to tick the box on the landing care which states that you are carrying food, you might feel outraged, but it is all for a reason. Australia is an island, and as such, has a frail ecosystem, which can be devastated by things you might find ridiculous. For example, I bet you didn’t know that within 20 years, 24 rabbits stripped bare 2 million acres of what was once a lush landscape. Well, I shouldn’t say 24 rabbits, as it was initially 24 and of course, as rabbits do, they multiplied. If only quarantine had been in effect back then the rabbits would have been shipped right back to England and/or kept in cages to avoid irreparably damaging the land. Have a look if you don’t believe me:

Thomas Austin of Barwon Park near Geelong in the colony of Victoria imports 24 rabbits for sport.
1865- 1866
Over this two-year period, Thomas Austin reports he and his guests have killed at least 34,000 rabbits in sport. Austin and adjacent landowners enjoy the sport of rabbit hunting so much they ask for legislation to protect rabbits.
Rabbits are in plague proportions in the eastern states, eating out pasture. Landowners petition to make destruction of rabbits compulsory.
In NSW from January to August it is estimated that 10 million rabbits are killed.
Following a Royal Commission, the WA Parliament decides to build a rabbit proof fence.
Over the next 8 years, rabbits move further west - past open gates in the fence, under the wire where soil had been eroded away and through holes torn in the wire netting.
1935- 1937
Rabbits are in plague proportions.
The contagious disease 'myxomatosis' is released. The disease only affects rabbits and is transmitted by mosquitoes. The disease kills millions of rabbits and halts the rabbit explosion.
A new poison - '1080' (ten eighty) is introduced. 1080 is relatively harmless to native animals and it adds to the effect of myxamotosis. Eradication of rabbits looks possible.
The European rabbit flea is released as an alternative carrier of myxomatosis, due to low numbers of mosquitoes in WA and Tasmania.
Rabbits still thrive. A new highly infectious disease - 'rabbit calicivirus disease' is released at Cranbrook WA on 18 October.
Although combined use of myxomatosis, 1080 poison and rabbit calicivirus disease seems to be effective in keeping rabbit numbers down, rabbits still cost Australian farmers more than $600 million every year. Research continues into other methods such as fertility control agents.


A Free Man said...

Don't forget the foxes. Or the cane toads. Or the Americans ;)

Anonymous said...


I really love rabbits, and I understand how much they bother farmers. So I understand they try to kill them.

Nevertheless, I come from France and I owe 2 companion rabbit (sterilized and vaccinated). I would like to go to Australia, but you are not allowed to import them in Australia. I think it's completely stupid to forbid the importation of companion animals as long as they are inoffensive for anyone.
It's like, if the Australian government would say : "you can't bring your kid because he may have chickenpox and affect other children.

I think it is a stupid law. They should simply suspend the importation of all animals (cats and dogs!!!!!!!!!)

Suzer said...

I can understand your frustration (I have a cat I had to leave behind with my mom as I didn't want to put him through quarantine), but I do disagree with you. If your rabbits were ever to get loose, which is probably the reason they are banned...although, on the other hand, I'm remembering they sell rabbits in pet shops, which seems a bit daft!