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Pepper Grinder – All Hail the Vernon Circle Rabbits!

By Callum Florance


Pepper Grinder is a Peppercorn series providing news and reporting relevant to ANU law students via Peppercorn’s Facebook page and biannual magazine.

Photograph by Max Sandler

Surrounded by concrete and speeding drivers, Vernon Circle is like a dangerous island at the tail-end of Northbourne Avenue. Anyone who has braved its shores – possibly even on a walk to Mooseheads – and wandered up City Hill and onto Vernon Circle knows a mystical secret about it: the whole place is covered in rabbits.


For this edition of Pepper Grinder, we will be exploring the venerable Vernon Circle rabbits in all their glory, including their legal status, who is responsible for them, whether they are protected, how the light rail construction is impacting them, and how we should be iconifying these symbols of community resilience in the face of adversity and danger.

Photograph by Max Sandler

Legal status

Despite (or because of) their hardiness, the Vernon Circle rabbits are considered to be pests. A spokesperson for the National Capital Authority (NCA) referred to their presence on Vernon Circle as a ‘rabbit infestation and the associated problems that come with the overabundance of European rabbits’. Similarly, an ACT Government spokesperson referred to rabbits as ‘a key threatening process to threatened species conservation under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth)’.

Photograph by Max Sandler

The NCA spokesperson explained that ‘European Rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) are an invasive introduced species which out competes many other Australian native mammals for food’ and that ‘European rabbits cost, on average’ $216 million in damage to Australian agriculture each year (McLeod 2016), not including damages to urban and peri-urban areas’.


The ACT Government spokesperson added that ‘[r]abbits selectively feed on certain species of plants at critical stages of development, such as seeding and seedling establishment’, which ‘severely affects regeneration and recruitment of vegetation communities and can cause soil erosion [that]... may replace native species with noxious or unpalatable weed species’. The spokesperson also noted the ACT Pest Animal Management Strategy 2012-2022 is a useful guide for ‘reducing the damage caused by pest animals’.

Photograph by Max Sandler

Responsibility

The ACT is an interjurisdictional gem, with a mixture of Territorial and Commonwealth responsibilities over the lands. However, the responsibility over Vernon Circle is murky. An NCA spokesperson noted ‘[t]he area of land in question is managed by the ACT Government, not the [NCA]’. An ACT Government spokesperson said ‘Vernon Circle is managed by the [NCA]’. Certainly a strange thing to uncover that the Vernon Circle rabbits are in a form of responsibility purgatory, let alone Vernon Circle itself.

Photograph by Max Sandler

Protection?

There is something commendable about the resilience of the Vernon Circle rabbits, but they are not exactly being protected. ACT Wildlife noted in response to questions that it ‘focus[es] on the Rescue, Rehabilitation and Release of Australian native which live in the ACT’ and its ‘vision is to ensure the welfare and biodiversity of wildlife in the ACT is maintained’. It is therefore no surprise that ACT Wildlife says it ‘has not had any engagements with the rabbits’.


An NCA spokesperson said that, ‘[w]here appropriate, the NCA undertakes pest control activities... using a variety of measures’ because ‘European rabbits are prolific breeders and until another effective biocontrol agent is released, or environmental conditions change, populations will remain high wherever food is plentiful’. Needless to say, the NCA and ACT Wildlife are not protecting the Vernon Circle rabbits.

Photograph by Max Sandler

Light rail construction

Although the Vernon Circle rabbits are regarded as pests and are not protected, the light rail construction on Vernon Circle poses questions about their treatment. I asked ACT Wildlife whether it has a position on the protection of the Vernon Circle rabbits with the ongoing construction around their habitat. ACT Wildlife responded that it ‘believes that no animal should be allowed to suffer or be abused’ and ‘[a]ll animals should be treated with respect and kindness and whatever the governing laws stipulate’.


An ACT Government spokesperson explained how rabbits were being treated in the light rail construction process around Vernon Circle:

  • For the work on Vernon Circle, the light rail project environment team referred to the Best Practice Management Guide for Rabbits in the ACT to investigate options for management. This guide is solely focused on measures to control and reduce population numbers, however, measures have been put in place to avoid causing unnecessary harm in to rabbits during the works.

  • Most of the rabbit populations within the Vernon Circle work area are located on City Hill, where no construction works or associated destruction to any warrens will occur. The ‘tree knock’ or nudge approach is use before works, which involves creating a noise/vibration disturbance to alert the animals in a non-destructive manner, with the goal being for the animals to leave the area/s. In the case of work on Vernon Circle, the rabbits would, and have to date, moved into City Hill.

  • The staged approach of the work has also meant a gradual increase in construction activity and noise, which has reduced the sudden impact to the rabbit populations through noise and vibration in the City Hill vicinity.

  • The ACT Government ensures workers are aware of their surrounds and environmental issues, including of rabbits.

Photograph by Max Sandler

Iconify

Yes, there are legitimate environmental issues with rabbits around Canberra, but the Vernon Circle rabbits are distinct and should be iconified rather than eradicated. The Vernon Circle rabbits are the embodiment of community resilience in the face of diversity and danger. They should be venerated and iconified, they should have a legacy.


There should be statues of them placed on Vernon Circle. There should be a poem called All hail the Vernon Circle rabbits! to accompany those statues. Regardless of whether they are successfully removed in the future, or whether they exist for eternity, the Vernon Circle rabbits should live on in perpetuity.

Photograph by Max Sandler

* * *

All hail the Vernon Circle rabbits!

On an island in Canberra

A peculiar sight you’ll see –

The Vernon Circle rabbits,

In abundance and solidarity.


Despite cars and light rail,

And danger and adversity,

The Vernon Circle rabbits

Will live on endlessly.


All hail the Vernon Circle rabbits!

A community foregone,

Unwanted by the world.

These icons will live on.


All hail the Vernon Circle rabbits!

These icons will live on.

These icons will live on.

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