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Steve Austin - Bunny Detecting Spaniels


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(make sure you go to the link above, cute photos)

Dina wouldn't hurt a hair on a bunny's head


13 Dec, 2011 04:00 AM

Renowned dog handler Steve Austin says his spaniels know not to hurt the rabbits or hares they flush out.

Mr Austin, who was working in Canberra yesterday, said the role of his four springer spaniels was only to detect the rabbits and hares or their warrens in the Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary - it was then up to officers to shoot or gas them. ''None of these dogs will touch an animal. They're not allowed to,'' he said.

''It's extremely important to understand the dog's job is to find the rabbits and it's the humans' job to kill them under the correct rules and regulations.''

Mr Austin, who was hunting cane toads with his dogs near Sydney last week also used them to help reduce the rabbit population on Macquarie Island, working among seals and penguins.

''The dogs will find a rabbit sitting right next to a seal or penguin, and I mean literally, right next to them, and they won't go near the seal or penguin,'' he said.

The ACT Government is aiming to make the Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary free of feral animals. It has already removed all foxes and cats through poisoning.

Territory and Municipal Services says about 80 per cent of the rabbit and hare population has been removed from the sanctuary through shooting, poisoning or gassing. But small pockets remain.

Mulligans Flat Board of Management chairman Professor Tony Peacock said the remaining rabbits and hares had to be removed ahead of the proposed release of the Eastern Bettong to the sanctuary next autumn.

The rabbits' grazing resulted in the loss of vegetation, while their burrows caused erosion.

But Professor Peacock acknowledged it was still a difficult job to remove the animals.

''No one enjoys killing animals but in this case you can have the rabbits and hares or you can have the bettongs,'' he said.

Bettongs, a small rat-like native marsupial, were once common in the Canberra region but had been extinct on the Australian mainland for about 80 years and are now confined to Tasmania.

Professor Peacock said bettongs were being bred at Tidbinbilla for release into Mulligans Flat while others would be brought in from Tasmania. The bettongs foraged in the vegetation and encouraged the growth of fungi which they ate. Rabbits and hares competed for that same vegetation.

The ACT Government erected a two-metre high fence around the sanctuary in 2009 to create a predator-free environment across 470ha of of yellow box-Blakely's red gum grassy woodland.

Professor Peacock said the aim was to introduce other native species to the sanctuary including the threatened New Holland mouse and a large wallaby.

''It's not just a fence where we throw a few animals in like a zoo - they are animals that are important to that particular ecosystem,'' he said.

Professor Peacock was confident the cat and fox populations had been removed from the sanctuary, with camera and sand traps showing no evidence of them.

The Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary will be closed to the public this week.

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