Lutra 52(2)_Drees et al_2009

The translocation of rabbits in a sand dune habitat: survival, dispersal and predation in relation to food quality and the use of burrows

A decrease in a local rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) population can be offset by translocation and restocking the area with rabbits from other areas. However, such translocation programmes tend to suffer from a low survival rate - possibly due to stress and lack of cover. As part of a project, that sought to evaluate the potential of translocating rabbits in Dutch coastal dune areas, we were able to compare the movements of resident rabbits with those of translocated rabbits. This was the first such experiment in the Netherlands. Mortality during the translocation process was minimised by reducing stress during the trapping, handling and transportation. However, following the rabbits’ release there was a high mortality from fox predation in the first week. We tested for other factors that could influence the outcome of the experiment such as the quality of food in the new habitat and immunity to RHD. Most of the translocated rabbits left the artificial burrows for unused natural burrows during the first night. They continued to use several burrows throughout the study. We conclude that this should not be interpreted as a lack of settling, but as a behaviour which is adapted to sandy dunes: rabbits will naturally use more than one burrow where sufficient burrows are available.