We investigated two questions: Why did most historical releases of rabbits on the Australian mainland fail? And why did many releases of rabbits on islands around Australia persist? We reviewed historical sources and present here nearly 300 records of the importation, sale, transportation and release of rabbits in the period 1788–1900, with >90 records before the popularly cited 1859 Barwon Park (near Geelong, Victoria) release by Thomas Austin. Similarly, we present records of localised impact of quolls (especially Dasyurus viverrinus) on rabbits and poultry, indicative of the great abundance of quolls. Rabbits were often imported and traded and releases were frequent and widespread. This evidence implicates native predators, particularly quolls (Dasyurus spp.) as responsible for the widespread and early failure of rabbits to establish on mainland Australia. In contrast, rabbits thrived on many islands, nearly all of which lacked cursorial natural enemies. We suggest that these accounts support the establishment of rabbits from several locations, with Barwon Park being a primary location and rabbit source.
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Vol. 61 • No. 3