Bring back the boards, bunny battlers plead

We could be back to rabbit boards to beat the bunnies, it seems.

A delegation of Marlborough high country farmers has met with the Ministers of Biosecurity, Conservation and Lands to press for Government support for rabbit control in the country’s worst-affected areas.

Requests for “Government support” (in Alf’s experience) boil down to requests for money, and in these straitened times the Marlborough mob’s prospects look somewhat bleak.

But Donald Aubrey, Federated Farmers pest animal management spokesperson, says the recent resurgence of rabbits threatens New Zealand’s productivity and environment and must be halted “as a matter of urgency.”

He also says the Government must accept its role in protecting the environment, “especially rabbit-prone properties in the South Island High Country to ensure the land rehabilitation gains following the introduction of Rabbit Haemorrhage Disease (RHD) in 1997 are not lost.”

His argument: rabbit control should not be the sole responsibility of the landholder.

A press statement from the feds says

“We are more than happy to play a leading role in rabbit control. However, where control costs become excessive, it is appropriate that the public pays a share of these costs,” Mr Aubrey continued.

Hence Federated Farmers is calling for the establishment of a voluntary group in each area to form an autonomous board to manage the rabbit problem.

The board would oversee infrastructure including the contract growing of carrots, streamlining resource consents, establishing best practice methodology, assisting with further research and development into biological control and liaising with regional councils.

Under the National Pest Management Strategy framework, a formal partnership between landholder and central Government should also be formed for a 50/50 split on costs on a property by property basis. This would occur where notices of direction have been issued by regional councils when rabbit numbers reach excessive levels,” Mr Aubrey added.

He had some figures on rabbit breeding which suggest a bunny’s capacity for copulation is prodigious. Hungry little buggers, too.

“Rabbit numbers have surged as the pest eat and breed incessantly. A pair of rabbits will breed every six weeks producing an average of five to six offspring. It is not uncommon for one doe to produce 45 offspring in one year and these offspring are able to breed at 12 weeks of age.

“Between 10 and 12 rabbits eat the equivalent of one sheep in vegetation, devouring emerging shoots, denuding the ground and killing off natural cover.

“The rising number of rabbits demands an urgent solution to prevent further damage to the economy and environment,” concluded Mr Aubrey.

For urban folk who might not give a toss, rabbits are New Zealand’s second major vertebrate pest problem after possums.

Alf obtained this rundown from MAF.

Rabbits were introduced into New Zealand in the 19th century and reached plague proportions by the 1880s, seriously affecting the viability of farming in some areas and giving rise to the rabbit-control and fur industries.

Some bright bugger persuaded the Government to introduce stoats, weasels, and ferrets to deal with them. It didn’t work, but the stoats, weasels and ferrets found our native birds were good tucker.

Rabbit boards sprung up to try to control the burgeoning bunnies, and the Rabbit Destruction Act (passed in 1948) aimed at national coverage by them (achieved in 1960).

Rabbit boards became pest destruction boards in 1967 as control of possums became necessary.

But in the 1980s Government shifted the responsibility for pest control to the land owner and financial support was progressively withdrawn.

Newly-established Regional Councils became the main agencies for pest management in 1989.

But the reduction of taxpayer input and favourable breeding seasons resulted in reduced control efforts and a proliferation of rabbits in rabbit-prone areas of Otago, Canterbury, and Marlborough in the late 1980s.

Under the Rabbit and Land Management Programme, Government provided a special package of support for rabbit control and development of sustainable land management for the worst-affected land. This programme ended in 1995.

Feral rabbits now are running rampant over about 150,000 square km (about 55% of the total area of New Zealand). The rabbit population in 1995 was estimated at around 30 million.

According to MAF:

The direct annual costs of rabbit control and lost production have been put by Parkes at $22 million. This is not counting loss in conservation values or contingent costs to trade. New Zealand annually uses about 500 kg of 1080 poison, and 200 tonnes of pindone baits in the control of rabbits. In addition feral rabbits are being harvested and processed commercially.

Despite the considerable efforts over the years to deal with the rabbit problem, the existing technologies have essentially managed only to hold the line of control.

Maybe boards are the answer.

But Alf is struck by the vast volumes of tasty meat represented by those rabbits in a world where millions of people are starving.

One Response to Bring back the boards, bunny battlers plead

  1. N says:

    The rabbit seems to be nature’s herbivore of choice in New Zealand for the conversion of sunlight through our often-poor soils into protein, hides and fibre. It is a pretty trouble-free beast to ‘farm’, and I recall herding swarms of them into fence-corners to dispatch them.

    So why on the most difficult country do we persist with sheep who – being only a small step up the food chain (about 10 centimetres!) – compete unsuccessfully with the rabbit for the same fodder – when rabbit-farming seems a much simpler deal?

    We do have a bit of surplus man-power around these days (shades of the earlier depression) , so if they are not planting trees they could be pulling rabbit and possum out of that 55% of NZ that is out of control and farming these free-range animals on a Maximum Sustainable Yield basis – as we do (should) for our fisheries.

    Lets not mess about – just get on with it!

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