Public servants in Canberra have stepped up efforts to kill rabbits near Parliament House by employing professional shooters.

Key points:

  • Rabbit populations have exploded in Canberra as a result of plentiful food
  • Shooters with air rifles are helping to cull the animals in the parliamentary area
  • The National Capital Authority says using poison may harm birds that hunt rabbits

The ACT and federal governments have been struggling to control fast-growing grasses and weeds across the city after a wet year.

That lush growth has led to a boom in animal populations, including rabbits.

With abundant food at hand, the pests have been breeding like … well, rabbits.

The National Capital Authority (NCA), which administers the lands near Parliament House, was quizzed about the animals during a parliamentary hearing on Tuesday.

David Smith, one of Canberra’s three MPs, said he and his colleagues had been fielding public complaints about the damage the rabbits were causing.

NCA chief executive Sally Barnes said her agency was working with the ACT government to manage their numbers.

“Rabbits are always an issue for us,” she told the committee.

“Our preference is not to use poisons … we know that, for some of the larger birds in Canberra, rabbits are their natural diet.

“In fact, I’ve seen raptors swoop twice and pick up kittens [baby rabbits] from Kings Park and take them away to nests.”

Rabbits eating grass.

Rabbits can cause extensive erosion and compete with native animals for food.(ABC News)

Ms Barnes said the reluctance to use poison limited her agency’s options.

“We’ve got to be very careful about that … we have to keep on it.”

Rabbits have long plagued central Canberra, particularly near Lake Burley Griffin, but their populations have noticeably increased during the wet La Niña weather cycle.

West Australian senator Matt O’Sullivan told the hearing he was shocked by their numbers when he was last in the national capital.

“I rode around the lake and almost collected one on … Dairy Flat Road,” he said.

Authorities’ decades-old battles against vermin

A rabbit eating grass.

The NCA does not poison rabbits because some birds feed on them.(ABC News)

The NCA and the ACT government’s use of contract shooters is not new, but more work than usual is underway to deal with surging rabbit populations.

The shooters spot the rabbits with thermal imaging and use air rifles. The carcasses are then given to the local zoo.

The ACT government said rabbits and their feeding posed a serious threat to the survival of native birds, mammals and insects, and their warrens eroded the soil.

The introduced pests have contributed to the extinction of several plant and animal species in the region.

Outside the parliamentary area, the government uses a range of poisons to control rabbit populations.

The rabbit calici virus was also introduced in north Canberra in 2007 but it was deemed unsuccessful in reducing their numbers.

Posted , updated 

Shooters called in as rabbits plague Parliament House
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