Rabbits are distributed to different degrees throughout Southland but are absent from Stewart Island/Rakiura and offshore Islands.

K5 rabbit virusThe Ministry for Primary Industries has approved the release of the new Rabbit Haemorrhagic Virus Disease strain known as RHDV1 K5. This is not regarded as the 'silver bullet' for rabbit control, and its impact may vary in Southland, therefore landowners will still need to carry out traditional control methods.Environment Southland has released the virus on only three sites, although there may be further releases in the future. There are no plans to release it on a large scale in Southland, as other regions with more significant rabbit populations will be doing.Pet rabbitsA vaccine is available in New Zealand which has been helping to protect rabbits from the current RHDV1 for many years. Studies undertaken by the Australian government indicate that this vaccine will help protect pet rabbits against the RHDV1 K5 strain. Pet rabbit owners are advised to talk to their local veterinarian to ensure their rabbits have the best protection available.RHDV2 virusA new strain of the rabbit calicivirus, RHDV2, was discovered in New Zealand in May 2018. This strain is widespread in Europe and Australia but had not previously been found in New Zealand. It is unknown how prevalent the strain is in New Zealand, but there have been no cases reported in Southland. A vaccine is now available for RHDV2, in limited numbers, and pet rabbit owners are advised to contact their vet for advice on vaccination.For more information and frequently asked questions, go to:

What is it?

European rabbits are small to medium sized herbivores, grey-brown in colour with a white underside and white under their tail. Rabbits are smaller than hares, with shorter ears and a tendency to burrow.


What is the problem?

Rabbits cause economic and environmental damage, particularly when exposed to favourable environmental conditions. Prolific breeding generally occurs during spring and if drier conditions, short pasture and food sources are plentiful, rabbits can reach high numbers. Rabbits compete with stock for food, causing damage to crops and plantings. Burrowing is a concern in areas where short grass and dry conditions creates ideal habitat for rabbits.

How to control it

The most effective time of year to control rabbits is during the late autumn and winter when their population numbers are lowest, and before they begin to breed again in the spring and summer.

Control MethodExample
ShootingFor rural landowners only a with firearms licence. Most effective at night using .22 rifle or shotgun. Always follow the firearms
safety code.
PoisoningIn bait stations only, using Pindone rabbit pellets available
from farm supply stores.
FumigantsMagtoxin can be used for targeting juveniles in burrows. Available from farm supply stores.
Commercial pest controllersContact Environment Southland for information on recommended contractors or the Yellow Pages under pest control.
PreventionExclusion fencing, plant protectors (drums, plastic, wire), repellents.

For details on control methods, see our factsheets on rabbits.


Rabbits are a suppression animal on mainland Southland. They are too well established to eradicate from the mainland, so our aim is to suppress their numbers to minimise impacts on the Southland community and environment. Rabbits are an exclusion animal on Stewart Island/Rakiura, offshore and inland islands.


Land occupiers within Southland shall control rabbits on the land they occupy to reasonable levels at their own expense to reasonable levels. No person shall possess, sell, breed, transport or release live rabbits on or to Stewart Island/Rakiura, any offshore island, any island or area enclosed by a predator proof fence. No person shall release any rabbit into the wild within Southland. For a full explanation of the rules for rabbits, read our factsheets on rabbits.


Each year Environment Southland carries out rabbit monitoring at approximately 30 areas of concern to estimate rabbit levels. This typically happens over autumn and winter.

Page reviewed: 27 Jun 2018 11:50am