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It is believed that this story began in 1859 when an Australian farmer, Thomas Austin, released several rabbits into his park. This happened in Victoria, Geelong District. Before that, rabbits were introduced into Australia by the first colonists as a source of meat and were usually kept in cages. Thomas Austin was an avid hunter and decided that rabbits would not bring much damage, would be an excellent source of meat and they could be hunted with pleasure in the wild.
According to other sources, releases or shoots of rabbits into the wild were noted repeatedly in the middle of the 19th century in the south and north of the continent, so Thomas Austin alone should not be blamed for the distribution of rabbits.
The idea was a good one. Rabbits reproduce very quickly, have delicious dietary meat and quite valuable skins (rabbit fluff), which was important for the first settlers. Prior to that, rabbits were quite successfully brought to the USA and South America, where there were no problems with them – they joined ecosystems and their numbers were controlled by the natural predators of these places. But Australia is a special continent, so everything went wrong.
Problems began within a few years. The number of rabbits has grown significantly and they began to meet already 100 km from the place of initial release. Nobody took into account the fact that rabbits reproduce exponentially: one rabbit can produce 20-40 rabbits a year, and after a year the total family increases to 350 individuals. Since Australia has no cold winters, rabbits began to breed almost year-round. A good climate, an abundance of food and the absence of natural predators were excellent conditions for explosive population growth. By the beginning of the 20th century, the number of rabbits was approximately 20 million, and by the middle of the century it was already 50 million. There were 75-80 rabbits per inhabitant of Australia.
They began to fight rabbits as enemies of sheep. The animals ate all the pastures, and the sheep did not have enough food. The figures are as follows: 10 rabbits eats the same amount of grass as 1 sheep, but the sheep gives 3 times more meat.
It seems that local residents were little concerned with the problems of preserving flora and fauna, and in fact rabbits caused damage not only to sheep and farmers. Where rabbits lived, several species of kangaroos died before 1900 (they did not have enough food), other small marsupial animals, as well as some species of native fauna, were seriously affected – rabbits ate plants with root and gnawed young trees, destroying them completely.
As a result, an ordinary European rabbit has become a typical representative of an invasive animal species. this is the name of living organisms, which, as a result of introduction into new ecosystems, begin to actively capture them and displace indigenous inhabitants.
The fight with rabbits itself brought a lot of trouble for the Australian flora and fauna. Initially, they decided to bring in the natural enemies of rabbits – foxes, ferrets, cats, ermines, weasels. But the attempt was unsuccessful. The introduced species also became invasive, switching to local marsupials and birds, which were not as fast as rabbits, and could not resist new predators.
Then they turned to traditional methods – pesticides, shooting, blasting holes. This was not effective, given the huge number of animals. In the state of Western Australia, from 1901 to 1907 built a huge wire fence. It’s called “Rabbit Fence No. 1”. The fence is constantly patrolled by cars, rabbit digs fall asleep, rabbits shoot back.
At first, the fence was patrolled by camels. After the advent of cars, camels were released into the wild as they were no longer needed, they bred, began to destroy pastures, and a new problem appeared in Australia.
In the mid-50s. The 20th century began to use the achievements of medicine to fight rabbits. Rabbit fleas and mosquitoes infected with myxomatosis virus have been brought to Australia. This disease causes tumors and death of rabbits. Thus, about 90% of diseased animals were destroyed. But the remaining rabbits developed immunity, over time they became less likely to get sick and even less likely to die. So at the moment, the problem of rabbits in Australia has not yet been resolved.