In this island country, where non-native rabbits are problematic to agricultural interests, the annual organized Great Easter Bunny Hunt in Central Otago —featuring teams with names like the Bunny Busters and Southern Hopper Stoppers — eliminated nearly 8,500 of the pests over the holiday weekend.
This year, 24 teams from across the country entered the popular annual hunting event, ending with the final tally at Alexandra’s Pioneer Park on Saturday, where officials counted the carcasses of 8,439 rabbits harvested in the 2015 Great Easter Bunny Hunt.
In the 24th annual hunting event, the 27 teams comprised of a dozen hunters each spent 24 hours hunting what is considered the country’s Number One pest. The winning team, Down South, took the top honors with a total of 876 rabbits.
Rabbits were introduced to the country in the 1830s for food and sport, but without any natural predators, they quickly reproduced to plague proportions, causing serious ecological damage. Over decades, efforts to control the population have ranged from hunting the hares with dogs to releasing a biological toxin.
The impact of rabbits on the drier areas of the South Island was the county’s largest ecological disaster, as the grazed-off vegetation has never fully recovered. The worst affected areas – once covered with tussock, grasses and small shrubs – now have very little vegetation, leading to soil erosion by wind and rain.
Over the past 24 years, the annual hunt has culled a total of 287,679 rabbits from Central Otago farmland. After the carcasses are counted each year, most are buried in a pit, while others are used for dog food.
In past peak years as many as 23,000 rabbits have been killed in the event.
The event is operated by the Alexandra Lions Club, which this year donated the proceeds to the Otago Rescue Helicopter Trust.