Bring back rabbit boards

Moeraki, which is best known for its boulders and the delicious seafood served at Fleurs Place, is suffering from a plague of rabbits.

Rabbit numbers on the Moeraki peninsula have  skyrocketed and are at “plague” proportions, residents say.

The township of Moeraki is “just crawling” with rabbits this spring, locals say,  and dozens  can be seen  at the local camping ground, on roadsides, in gardens and anywhere they can find food.

Not permitted to shoot or poison rabbits in urban areas, locals are left waiting for the release of a new strain of the rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus to help control them.

The Otago Regional Council says it is the landowner’s responsibility to control pests, but residents spoken to by the Otago Daily Times say they have grown weary of the fight to control them.

Waitaki District Council Waihemo councillor Jan Wheeler, who lives on a farm on the peninsula, said the problem there was “shocking” despite her husband’s  efforts at rabbit control, and it was worse in the Moeraki village, which was “just crawling” with them this year.

“For every pair there’s been, there’s about seven babies running about. It’s a shocking problem. It’s been like this for about six years and it’s growing every year,” she said.

Retiree Brian Todd, of Hampden, last month began hunting, freezing and selling rabbits killed near Moeraki as pet food to a Timaru business.

In the middle of one day, he stood in the same spot on a Moeraki farm for  two and a-half hours and shot 46 rabbits, he said.

“There’s more rabbits in town than on the outskirts. The last thing I want to do is lose my firearms licence, but I reckon I could take out 1000 around town in a couple of weeks.” . . .

Moeraki retailer Leanne French said the village provided an ideal environment, particularly given there were many areas where landowners were not in a position to control them.

“They’re up in the …  holiday homes, where nobody lives …  they are just happily hanging out on the front lawn.

“As an example, we live where there are nine 12-acre [4.8ha] blocks, and there’s only three permanent people that live here. There are so many other pieces of land where nobody ever comes, so nobody can look after it. That causes trouble.” . . 

An application to import the new strain of the rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus has been made to the Ministry for Primary Industries and is being consulted on at present.

The new strain  infects only the European rabbit and no other species.

Otago Regional Council director of environmental monitoring and operations Scott MacLean said  the virus, if approved, would be available by autumn next year and Moeraki would be a priority for its distribution. . . .

Our hills aren’t moving with rabbits as they are in Moeraki but we’ve noticed a population explosion at home.

We’ve tried every legal way of killing them but haven’t made any noticeable impact on numbers.

We often see them on the lawn and around the garden. Even our raised vegetable beds aren’t safe since they’ve learned to jump up to nibble on young plants.

A few decades ago every district had a Rabbit board which employed people to cull the pests.

Since then, everyone’s responsible for dealing with the problem on their own properties but rabbits don’t observe boundaries. Culling rabbits on one property achieves little if neighbours don’t cull them too.

Is it time to bring back Rabbit Boards?

That would reduce the pest population and create a few jobs too.

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