Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch

Now, I have to confess that there are no giant rabbits in Australia and I actually made up some things in that last post. Yeah, yeah, I know, hard to believe that I would just make something up but there ya go. Normally I would not feel the need for such a disclaimer, but in this post I am going to tell you about something almost as bizarre and yet it is entirely true.

Both jedimacfan and Joe Fuel were of a mind as to how Australia's rabbit problems could be addressed, and indeed, their suggestions are not far off the mark. Let me tell you about the rabbit control program that we had in place at Treehouse.

First of all, you need to erase from your mind the image of the fluffy cottontail Watership Down hippity-hoppity bunny. Those are not rabbits - they are the cutesy concoctions of evil minds who lived in some place where the rabbit has natural predators. Not Australia.

As I intimated in the last post, what Australia means to the rabbit can be summed up in one word: smorgasbord (well, I don't know if rabbits understand Swedish, but whatever the rabbit equivalent to that is. Probably "ee--eeee--e-eee-ee").

Some statistics:

Rabbits breed awful fast, and have a lot of baby rabbits. Gestation period for a rabbit is 30 days and they typically have between 5 to 8 kittens. They reproduce for about nine months out of every year. That's about 40 new rabbits every year. One single rabbit can deplete an entire hectare of Australian native vegetation in the course of its natural grazing habit. And Australian native plants are not just tasty to rabbits, they are gourmet yummy treat delights. Rabbits will eat native flora in preference to just about anything else. This is devastating to the vegetation, but also debilitating for native animals and birds which depend on that habitat. One eighth of all mammalian species that once lived on the Australian continent are extinct due to rabbits. I was not able to find figures for native ground-dwelling birds, but you could probably assume a similar number.

Rabbits in Australia have virtually no predators. There are introduced foxes, but the foxes prefer to eat the native wildlife because, well, before foxes there were no predators and so everyone was a little relaxed with the 'run-away' response. Eagles eat some rabbits, as do snakes, but all-in-all, it's Rabbit Côte d'Azur.

Well, except for the myxo and the calicivirus, two biological control methods that have been released with varying and unexpected effects.

So, say the Côte d'Azur with bird flu.

When one becomes a landowner in Australia, as I did with my 25 acres of bush around the Treehouse, one is legally obliged to deal with the rabbit problem that comes as an added bonus with that land. On flat outback farms, this is a relatively simple matter - you get the tractor and plough the burrows (containing bunnies) under. Done. Or, in difficult areas, you chuck in a couple of sticks of dynamite and kablooey! Goodbye Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail.

Treehouse was in the Kanimbla Valley, however, a genteel allotment of 'lifestyle' acres and hobby farms. Sort of suburbia with neighbours too far away for their hi-fis to annoy you. Very hilly and rocky, so not good for ploughing, and a little crowded for dynamiting.*

So there are a number of other rabbit eradication measures available: poisoning by phostoxin and 1080; shooting, trapping and ferrets. Aside from the poisoning, which is pretty ugly, we tried all the others. None were as effective as...

The Rid-A-Rabbit.

Here's how it works: you have a cannister of LPG which you lump around to the burrows. The LPG sublimes into a white heavier-than-air vapour when it comes out of compression, and you let some of that flow down into the burrow. It will automatically find the lowest point underground. You put in just a small amount of gas - you don't want the burrow full of gas because you need oxygen in there too (yep, I can see that the Fuels and Jedimacfan have raced well ahead here).

Then, a second person places what is essentially a fancy oven-lighter on a very long extension cord in the mouth of the burrow. Then everyone runs like hell to get as far away as possible, and the person with the oven-lighter fires the switch.

One of two things generally happens:

A: Nothing. The gas/air mixture is not right.
B: There is an earth shaking kaboom, flashes erupt out of every burrow entrance attached to that hutch (rabbits are canny enough to realise that several doors are better than one, especially when it comes to ferrets), and the sound echoes impressively across the valley (which alerts all your neighbours that you are being virtuous and they should be doing the same).†

Oh, a third thing that sometimes happens is that callous unfeeling Rid-A-Rabbit operators feel the need to start singing "Bright Eyes, burning like fire..."

*Although I was tempted, on occasion, to think about lobbing a stick or two down into the place below me which was owned by some halfwit who, for reasons known only to himself, felt compelled to light up his driveway with airport runway lights at night.

†I know this sounds cruel, but of all the methods available, it is actually the most humane. The rabbits die of instant concussion and/or asphyxiation; all the oxygen in the burrow is instantaneously consumed by rapid combustion. I'm not saying it is pleasant, just better than dying of phostoxin poisoning, which is essentially slow painful death by a form of mustard gas. The Geneva Convention would appear to agree with me: many countries are allowed to have weapons that use the 'Instant Air Evacuation' or 'thermobaric' principle in their armoury, but chemical weapons such as mustard gas are illegal. That's People-Testing for animals. You can read about Fuel/Air explosions in warfare here if you have a strong stomach.


Blogger Joey Polanski said...

Dint you guys evr thinka postin a apropriately ferbidding sign on evry hectare of vegitation in th land?

"DON'T" comes t mind.

January 14, 2006 1:38 PM  
Blogger anaglyph said...

The rabbit for "don't" is unfortunately "ee--eee--e-eee-ee", which is very close to "ee--eeee--e-eee-ee".

January 14, 2006 1:47 PM  
Blogger anaglyph said...

In fact "ee--eeee--e-eee-ee" is very close to pretty much anything in rabbit language. Which explains a lot.

January 14, 2006 1:48 PM  
Blogger jedimacfan said...

I'd offer to send over Elmer Fudd, but he's in Washington D.C. until 2008.

January 14, 2006 2:16 PM  
Blogger Joey Polanski said...

Beware th Fudd plan, Revrend. Elmr Fudd aint nevr caut a rabbit an he aint no frenda mine. Ergo, he aint nuthin but a houn dog, cryin alla time.

P.S. Glad ya cleard up that biz bout rabbit languidge, Rev. I once seen a baby rabbit get snatchd up by a owl, an all this time I kep wondrin why a rabbits final werds woud be "smorgasbord". Littl fuckr was sayin "DON'T".

January 14, 2006 3:02 PM  
Blogger Joe Fuel said...

I'm jealous. I would have loved to be the guy with the modified oven-lighter. I know, I know. I'd burn myself. But it would be totally worth it.

Yeah, I'm a sick man. But I'm alright with that.

January 14, 2006 5:25 PM  
Anonymous Universal Head said...

I was. It was fun. And I'm still freaking out about the fact I was telling my girlfriend about that very experience today. And she started singing Bright Eyes to me.

January 14, 2006 10:57 PM  
Blogger Chickie said...

How interesting. If I ever go to Australia, I'm signing up for a rabbit-explosion-gassing safari.

January 15, 2006 12:19 AM  
Blogger jedimacfan said...

Chickie:I'm up for that and I'd be willing to bet that we could talk Joey into it. Want to try for a group rate discount?

January 15, 2006 1:10 AM  
Blogger Radioactive Jam said...

Wish I could use that method on the armadillos tearing up things around here. Unfortunately their burrow seems to extend underneath our house. Thus the LPG solution - while indeed "sublime" - might not be appropriate.

January 15, 2006 1:54 AM  
Blogger Joey Polanski said...

JediMacFan: Only rabbit Im wantin t rub out is Roger Rabbit. You no I got that hole comfort-th-grievin-widow agenda.

Joey "Sammy th Bull" Polanski

January 15, 2006 2:45 AM  
Blogger anaglyph said...

Wow, it had never occurred to me that I could start up a whole tourist industry based on rabbit-control. It's brilliant!

January 15, 2006 1:46 PM  
Blogger anaglyph said...

Universal Head: And when I got into my car just after having uploaded this post, the song that was playing was Calvin Johnson's 'Rabbit Blood'. It's all proof of a Divine Hand. I mean, what are the odds of all that happening by accident...

January 15, 2006 1:50 PM  
Anonymous Cissy Strutt said...

Bunny Blasting is an Art

January 15, 2006 2:06 PM  
Blogger weirdpixie said...

anaglyph, now that i've been reading here at the Cow for more than a few months, i'm finally starting to piece together what a truly remarkable life you lead. i mean, at first i was just impressed with the work you've done with your music and career in sound, not to mention your way with words and ability to continue to keep jotting great stuff here in a consistent manner-- but mastering the "art of bunny blasting" (as cissy strutt sums it up)--now that is something not everyone can accomplish within their own lifetime. impressive. (but of course, i can't still help going "oh poor bunnies!") heh.

January 15, 2006 6:23 PM  
Blogger Phi said...

mmm... why not teach the bunnies a bit of the Englismen Blusting Art and then let them work? I mean, at least it's not their fault if they've been shipped to Australia... think about all the Bunny families divided and sad, back in ol'Great Britain... they've been FORCED to leave relatives, friend and lovers... and we all know how keen rabbits are about lovers and having sex, uh?

January 15, 2006 8:06 PM  
Blogger anaglyph said...

Joey: Actually, that little bunny in the claws of the owl was probably saying 'smorgasbord'. Rabbits are a bit like that; when they're not thinking sex, they're thinking food. So those things occupy most of a rabbits brain. 'Don't' occupies only a very tiny part of the rabbit brain. The bunny you saw was probably over-awed at the aerial view it was getting of all that potential food.

weirdpixie: Yeah, we did the 'poor bunnies' thing a bit. As Phi pointed out, it's not actually their fault that they're here. But when you see the level of destruction they cause you realise they just have to go. Before Myxomatosis took hold here in the 1950s, rabbits were pretty much set to completely destroy the natural environment. I have old pictures of rabbits in numbers so great that they form drifts against 3 foot fences as live rabbits clamber over other rabbits, killing them in their efforts to get into other fields.

There is work being done now on genetic viruses which will reduce the fertility of rabbits, the object being that they will just stop breeding. This of course is the preferred method for controlling them - no-one really gets hurt, they just all die out. Bizarrely enough, there is resistance to this in Spain, because there, of course, the rabbit is a native species and such a virus could wipe them out for good.

Ah, the complexities of the world.

January 16, 2006 11:06 AM  
Blogger jedimacfan said...

anaglypha foreign species that invades and is ultimately destroyed by a microscopic organism? Sounds like a great plot for a movie. Maybe something Tom Cruise or Dakota Fanning would be interested in. You might give them a call.

January 16, 2006 1:05 PM  
Blogger anaglyph said...

Tom Cruise fighting a Giant Rabbit. I might actually pay money to see that.

January 16, 2006 1:48 PM  
Blogger Chickie said...

A Giant Rabbit EATING Tom Cruise. I'd pay to see that.

January 16, 2006 2:17 PM  
Blogger jedimacfan said...

Tom Cruise and a rabbit.

January 16, 2006 2:56 PM  
Anonymous vox said...

I actually have some experience with FAE's and pretty much everything else that the US uses to kill things in caves, supersonic death machines used to be my stock in trade.

While the method you mention has been used here for prairie dogs (not really dogs), the more enjoyable method involves a porch, a comfy chair, a high powered rifle, a few spare hours, and a case or two of beer.

Prairie dogs are just really stupid rabbits, so I'm assuming this would work for you. If you need help, I know of someone willing to be paid in beer.

January 17, 2006 7:36 AM  
Blogger anaglyph said...

Vox: It does sound appealing, sitting on the porch with a beer and keeping the rabbits in check. And a lot less work than lugging cylinders of LPG around the hilly terrain. Unfortunately, up at Treehouse the shooting-from-the-porch option would have only kept down the really stupid rabbits, and the last thing I was wanting to do was selectively breed smarter rabbits.

And, as I'm sure you know, B + FAE = T (beer + fuel-air-explosions = trouble)

January 18, 2006 7:50 AM  

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