Australia’s Historic Nemesis: The Bunny Rabbit

By | May 23, 2019

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European Rabbits in Australia. Source: (Wikipedia)

Australia is home to 66 venomous species of animals. Some, like the funnel web spider, the Dubois sea snake, the taipan snake, the blue-ringed octopus, and the box jellyfish are the stars of internet clickbait lists titled “World’s Most Deadliest Animals.” Aside from poisonous species, Australia is home to the saltwater crocodile, whose aggressive tendencies mixed with human habitat encroachment invariably result in at least a couple of deaths per year. By reputation and reality, Australia is the home to some dangerous animals.

But curiously, few people realize that perhaps the most dangerous species to Australia are none of the notorious species above, but rather Oryctolagus cuniculus, the European rabbit. The history of the rabbit in Australia is a cautionary tale concerning the dangers of human meddling with ecosystems.

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Australian Landscape. Source: (Wikimedia)

The first rabbits came to Australia in 1788 with the First Fleet, which brought the first British colonists to the continent. These colonists were mainly prisoners who were sentenced to “transportation” and were guilty of minor crimes such as petty theft. Their rabbits did not seem to be numerous by most accounts. Meanwhile, on Tasmania, a feral population had exploded so that by the 1820s it was overrunning the island.

The warning signs were duly ignored. Many of the new colonists believed that the introduction of foreign flora and fauna to Australia would enrich what they believed to be a barren Australian landscape. Some of these formed “Acclimatisation societies.” Over time, colonists would introduce animals on purpose or by accident, to a land not remotely prepared for them. The impact of this was and is devastating.