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.
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.
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.