Wild Rabbits and Hares

European rabbits were amongst the earliest of mammalian pests to be introduced to New Zealand. They are significant agricultural and ecological pests.

pexels photo 247374After their introduction, European rabbits soon became widely distributed throughout the drier regions of both main islands and on many offshore islands. As herbivores, they are very significant agricultural and ecological pests.

Rabbits thrive in dryland and semi-arid environments, especially in New Zealand’s South Island. They can populate these environments in truly destructive numbers if uncontrolled. Reduction of populations is on-going and essential for the economic and environmental welfare of New Zealand

Regional councils have primary responsibility for rabbit control in New Zealand. At the strategic level, policies and goals are set in each region’s Regional Pest Management Strategy. These goals are then pursued via Annual Plans, which dictate when and where control and monitoring will be carried out.

Methods of control 


For welfare performance of animal traps go to https://www.bionet.nz/control/pests-under-management/performance-traps/

Trapping can be time consuming, requires knowledge of correct trap placement to prevent catching other animals and is not recommended unless you already have some trapping experience. If you live in an urban area, there is a real risk of catching someone’s domestic animal. Check with your local district/city council to ensure that traps or snares are allowed under local bylaws. Contact your local biosecurity animal pest contractor for more information on using traps for rabbit control. 

Night Shooting

Night shooting is a reasonably efficient technique for killing rabbits and can be undertaken throughout the year as required. Often three passes are needed for control to be achieved, and at least 70% of the area must be accessible before contemplating night shooting. Night shooting tackles the rabbit population at a time when they are ground feeding. Night shooting is also a useful monitoring technique to allow problems to be noted and dealt with if the shooting is not making headway. very person who is shooting must either hold a firearms licence, or be under the supervision of a person who holds a firearms licence. You should inform your neighbours of where and when you intend to be shooting.


Fumigants are poisons that are introduced into a rabbit burrow system, to form toxic gases which are inhaled by the rabbit, causing death by absorption. Fumigation does not require the rabbit to eat a bait and so is effective in areas where bait shyness is a problem. It is labour intensive but can be used effectively in the breeding season to control young rabbits which, because of their small range, may not come across or feed on baits.


Baiting should not be undertaken during the breeding season. Check with your regional council or local agricultural store to see what is best for your circumstance. 


Effective fencing will slow the recovery of rabbit populations after control, or allow localised eradication to protect a high-value resource. Deem's 1914 fencing specifications for corner posts and mesh size are still appropriate today.

Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV)

Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus – also known as rabbit calicivirus - is a virus used as a pest control tool to reduce the number of wild rabbits. It affects the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). Rabbits are infected with the virus which then spreads through the population. Once a rabbit shows symptoms, it dies quickly. Rabbits get the virus from direct contact with other rabbits – through their eyes, nose and mouth, flies, fleas, and possibly some mosquitos, which can carry the virus. Urine, faeces and respiratory secretions may also shed the virus. An agreed national protocol determines the use of RCV biocide (Rabbit Calicivirus Suspension) in New Zealand. 

Legal requirements 

For a list of legal requirements check out the legal requirements page


The information on this website is intended to provide information about pests and pest management in New Zealand. We've made every effort to make sure that the information set out in this website is accurate. If you have an update to the information listed here please contact us.

For more specific information on the control of rabbits check out 'Pest rabbits: Monitoring and control good practice guidelines' in the Library.