Rabbit Advocacy Animal Matters
Keeping pet rabbits in
Keeping pet rabbits in Queensland remains illegal under the new Land Protection (Pest and Stock Route Management) Act 2002.
NR&M pest management strategy policy officer Jenny Shanahan said the maximum penalty for keeping a rabbit without a permit in Queensland has increased from $3750 to $30,000 from 1 July 2003.
“Rabbits are one of Australia’s major agricultural and environmental pests, costing between $600 million and $1 billion annually,” Ms Shanahan said. “In Queensland alone, control of rabbits is estimated to cost the sheep and cattle industries in excess of $2 million per annum.”
Ms Shanahan said peak agricultural industry groups, Local Government associations, and environmental and conversation groups support the ban on keeping rabbits as pets. “The new Act continues to recognise that wild rabbit plagues threaten the livelihood of many rural landholders, causing considerable losses to agricultural industries including grain and vegetable crops,” she said.
“Rabbits are an introduced species that have a major adverse impact on the environment as a whole and Australia’s native flora and fauna. “Rabbits compete with native animals and are a primary cause of soil erosion,” she said.
Ms Shanahan said organisations and businesses may apply for a permit to keep rabbits for scientific research, public education and public display purposes - however these permits have strict conditions. “Kindergartens and other educational institutions will no longer be permitted to keep domestic rabbits from July 1, and permits will not be issued for keeping rabbits as pets or for rabbit farming ” she said.
Permits to keep rabbits for research, education or display purposes can be obtained from the Department of Natural Resources and Mines, and are valid for up to two years. Permits issued prior to 1 July 2003 are valid and continue to be effective until 31 December 2003, unless otherwise revoked, suspended or surrendered.
The rabbit is Australia's most
destructive introduced pest. Wild rabbits cause more than $100 million damage
every year and have caused and continue to cause severe land degradation and
soil erosion. Wild rabbits threaten the survival of many rare and endangered
species of native wildlife. The keeping of pets is strongly opposed by many
rural landholders whose livelihood is threatened by wild rabbit plagues. Many
people fear the widespread keeping of rabbits as pets would cause similar
problems to those being experienced with the feral cat.
The rabbit (all varieties,
including domestic breeds) is a declared pest animal throughout Queensland under
the Rural Lands Protection Act 1985. It is an offence to keep a rabbit of any
variety as a pet. The maximum penalty is $30,000.
A proposal to legalise desexed
domestic rabbits was considered in 1994 but was rejected by the Departments of
Primary Industries, Environment and Heritage and Lands. The proposal was also
opposed by several local governments and grazier groups. The present ban on pet
rabbits has not been lifted and the keeping of all rabbits (domestic or
otherwise) as pets remains illegal in Queensland.
A permit cannot be issued for
keeping of pet rabbits of any variety for any private purpose.
The domestic varieties and the wild (grey) variety of rabbits are the same species, although the domestic varieties have been heavily modified via years of cross-breeding and selection by rabbit enthusiasts. Although most escaped domestic rabbits are probably killed by feral cats, dogs and foxes, there is evidence that a small proportion of escaped female domestic rabbits will survive and breed successfully with wild male rabbits.
Wild rabbits were originally imported into Australia in 1859 and released for hunting purposes in Victoria. The wild rabbit has since spread over most of Australia. There may be over 400 million wild rabbits in Australia today. Small colonies of domestic rabbit varieties have established on islands, where predators are absent.
Comment: According to Australia’s House Rabbit Society, pet rabbits are the most common illegal pet in Queensland. In all other States their keeping is virtually unregulated.