Yllättäjä etelästä: Helsingin kanit menestyvät mainiosti paljon luontaista esiintymisaluettaan pohjoisempana

Translated title of the contribution: The spread of feral rabbits in the urban Helsinki area

Petri Johannes Nummi, Päivi Anneli Leikas, Olli Rautiainen, Joonas Tammivuori

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


The feral population of rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus in
Helsinki originates from either escaped or deliberately
released pets, or both. The first confirmed observations,
leading to the establishment of the present population, are
from 1985. Earlier observations of rabbits in the wild were
made in the 1970s, but these did not lead to an established
Rabbit population development showed certain features
typical for many introduced populations. A latent period of
more than 10 years initially occurred in 1985–1997 (Fig.
1A), during which the rabbit population was small and
self-confined to a rural area on the western shore of Vanhankaupunginlahti
Bay in mid-Helsinki. During the next five years (1998–2002, Fig. 1B), rabbits gradually began spreading. The population exploded in the following five year
period (2003–2007) (Fig. 1C), and rabbits were also
observed in the neighboring cities of Espoo and Vantaa. The
rabbits spread during the next 10 years, especially westwards
to Espoo (Fig. 1D).
In Finland, rabbits now live in truly human-modified habitats
which, again, is typical for many alien invaders. Their
spreading behaviour appear to benefit e.g. from railroads
(Table 4). However, in an untypical manner, the rabbits have
thrived in the Helsinki climate, which is clearly colder than
in their original habitat in the Iberian Peninsula. This also
tells us something about the non-predictable nature of alien
invasions The urban microclimate in Helsinki, which may
be 1–3 °C – typical for cities – warmer than that of rural
neighborhoods, may have helped with this.
Intensive rabbit hunting began in 2009 (Table 1), and the
rabbit density decreased in the central distribution areas.
However, the population continued spreading. In 2016, the
population was hit by rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHD) virus,
which turned out to be a new type (RHDV2). Again, the
virus appeared to more strongly affect the central and denser
part of the population, while the rabbits continued their
spread in the edge areas. In 2017, the population appeared to
be recovering from the virus (Tables 2 and 3).
Whether the population on the south coast of Finland
grows to 50,000 or 500,000 rabbits remains to be seen, as
will how strongly e.g. diseases control the population. However,
it appears likely that rabbits will spread to urban and
suburban areas at least on the southern coast.
Translated title of the contributionThe spread of feral rabbits in the urban Helsinki area
Original languageFinnish
JournalSuomen Riista
Issue number63
Pages (from-to)53-66
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 2017
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Fields of Science

  • 119 Other natural sciences

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