Wānaka Sun       

What to do with all those rabbits?

Posted at 6:00am Thursday 01 Oct, 2020 | By Pat Deavoll editor@thewanakasun.co.nz

Take a walk up Mt Iron, or around the Albert Town campground, or out along the Lake Hawea foreshore track, and the rabbits scatter in waves.

I know when I leave my place in Lake Hawea early morning, the rabbits' hippity-hop along the road in front of me, their little eyes blinking in the headlights.

Always the bane of Central Otago, they seem to be particularly prevalent at the moment. So what to do about them? It's a dilemma.

When I approached the QLDC on the matter, they said: "The key to rabbit control is having landowners act collaboratively and, whenever possible, QLDC works in conjunction with neighbouring landowners to make this happen. QLDC manages pests on Council-owned or managed land only and undertakes some rabbit control where possible.

"The Otago Regional Council (ORC) is the regulatory body for pest management in Otago through the Regional Pest Management Plan, which targets a range of pest plants and animals."

 When I got onto the ORC website I couldn't find the Regional Pest Management Plan – the page was down. I searched for "rabbits" and was referred to the Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV) page. This is also known as rabbit calicivirus disease  (K5) and was introduced to New Zealand illegally in 1997.

But it has been proved that although viruses can provide a good knockback in numbers, they are no silver bullet and ongoing rabbit management is needed to keep numbers down.

"In 2018 a controlled release of the RHDV1 K5 (K5) virus around New Zealand, led by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), took place. This is not a new virus. It was hoped that this strain would provide enough of a knockback for landowners to get on top of rabbit control. Results are still being studied by Landcare Research as the virus will continue to work into the future," the website said.

But I think it has been agreed upon (at least by the Otago farmers I know) that the virus hasn't had the desired effect and that rabbit numbers are as prolific as ever.

Pindone is ideal for rabbit control of lifestyle and semi-rural properties, the website said

But when  QLDC laid Pindone around the Albert Town reserve sometime in May, take it from someone who periodically walks out that way, nothing much seems to have happened. The rabbits are still there, burrows and all.

But things are definitely on the improvement compared to the early days of sheep farming in Otago.

In 1884 rabbiters killed 24,000 rabbits on Kawarau Station down near Cromwell and then another 28,000 the following year. These numbers are staggering and it's no surprise that the productivity of the station declined dramatically. The rabbits ate all the grass so necessary to farming merino sheep. This was serious damage for the run holder back in those days.

What's more, throughout the 1870s and 1880s, farmers walked off their farms in Otago because of the impact of rabbits; come 1887, half a million hectares of land had been abandoned. This also is staggering.

There is nothing more to say other than rabbits have been the scourge of Central Otago for centuries.

So back to the Albert Town campground and its rabbits. Campers aren't farmers, and the impact of the animal on them is not extreme. It doesn't affect their lives other than falling down a rabbit hole and twisting an ankle. But rabbits do damage the topsoil of our reserves with their burrowing and eat away at the vegetation affecting the growth of local flora. And their numbers will only increase, and they will spread further if there is not a serious effort to curtail them.

Read edition 994 of thWānaka Sun here.



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