In a nutshell...
- Captain James Cook first introduced rabbits to New Zealand as an emergency food source for shipwrecked sailors. Fortunately, these first rabbits died out.
- In the 1850s more rabbits were introduced from both Australia and Europe to establish and export fur trade and meat for the local market.
- The rabbit flourished with no natural predators and by 1876 landowners were looking another ecological disaster in the face.
- Rabbit numbers then peaked in 1890, the 1920s and in 1946.
- Greatest damage has been caused in the South Island high country where observers report that on occasions you can see the top soil of the McKenzie basin blowing down to Timaru.
- Over the years massive amounts of farmers' and government money have been poured into rabbit control without a permanent solution.
- It was this frustration that drove some South Island, high country farmers, to illegally import the calici virus from Australia. It has reduced numbers with spectacular improvements but a resistant strain is slowly building up again.
- Control will have to be based on an integrated approach using all methods available at the time.
- Rabbits hate long grass so a combination of overgrazing by sheep, the spread of hyracium (hawk weed), the low rainfall and rabbits, have caused the high country environmental devastation
How can you tell if you have a problem?
- Rabbit scratchings in the paddock with droppings nearby.
- Nests of young rabbits in the paddock - shallow burrows with entrances covered by fresh soil.
- Domestic cats bringing home rabbits.
- Rabbit numbers on the farm increasing.
- Rabbit tracks coming into pastures from wooded areas.
- Warrens developing with close grazed areas around them covered in droppings.
How can you tell if you're doing well?
- No sign of rabbits on the farm.
- No wasted closely-grazed pasture caused by rabbits.
- No damage to crops or trees.
- Shooting or poisoning programmes that do not yield any rabbits.
What can you do to improve things?
- Take early action when you see rabbits just establishing themselves on a property.
- Contact your Regional Council for advice.
- Make sure any control measures using baits are done correctly or rabbits will become bait shy and a major problem.
- Cooperate with neighbours to increase effectiveness of your eradication programme.
- Make sure when using poisons and firearms that you have met your full legal obligations.
- Work hard to kill that last rabbit on your property.
- Realise that nature abhors a vacuum so once you have got rid of your current population, they'll be back!