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‘Boomer season’ for rabbits

Rabbit populations are booming. PHOTO/STOCK.ADOBE.COM

KAREN COLTMAN
[email protected]

Wairarapa lifestyle block owners are in the middle of a battle with a growing population of rabbits.

Greater Wellington Regional Council has been inundated with calls from people whose lifestyle blocks are overrun by the pests.

Regional council senior biodiversity officer Stephen Playle said it was a rabbit explosion which could be attributed to many factors.

This summer’s climate was good for them and the grass was still growing, he said, so breeding was going well.

The explosion of lifestyle block subdivisions was also assisting the explosion of the rabbit population, and immunity to the calicivirus disease was increasing.

Biosecurity New Zealand said rabbits were estimated to cost $50 million in lost production each year and another $25m in pest control.

Wild rabbits competed with livestock for pasture by eating the best grass.

They also cause extensive land damage from burrowing, making farming land useless.

The illegally introduced Czech strain of RHDV1 [calicivirus] in 1997 initially caused a rapid drop in rabbit numbers.

But since this release, wild rabbits have become increasingly immune to the strain.

In February 2018, another strain of the virus was released.

“Periodically we get blood from some dead rabbits tested and have found they have survived with the virus, and the second strain of the virus released has not worked as well as hoped,” Playle said.

“So, we have struck a conundrum.”

Playle said over the past few years, the rabbit population had increased, but not in the traditional areas they monitored along the Tauherenikau River, Western Lake, and up in the Eastern Hill Country.

It is in the new Masterton and Carterton lifestyle blocks that rabbit numbers were increasing the most.

Evidently, the short grass with some shelter on these blocks is ideal for rabbits. Putting down poisonous bait and fumigating the burrows is only effective when it is co-ordinated across properties at the right time and continued.

The best time to poison the population is in late February or early March.

Playle planned to talk to the South Wairarapa District Council about an area of land they owned in Greytown where the rabbits were breeding.

He said the rabbits liked the pampas grass there and he would be suggesting its removal.

He said this would help the neighbouring properties to control their rabbits.

Hares are also a problem in Wairarapa particularly for foresters and farmers planting seedling trees in bulk.

Wairarapa Federated Farmers president William Beetham has had a big problem with hares this season.

“They have eaten the tops of a whole lot of trees we’ve planted,” Beetham said.

“We’ve had a terrible time.

“The whole planting project was damaged at a cost of around $50,000 and I know I am not the only one.

“It certainly is an issue for farmers.”

 

2 COMMENTS

  1. Does the council supply the bait to get rabbits under control we are pensioners and have alot of long grass growing around our property and eating the vegetables we planted in our garden of a half acre block which will soon have the new doctors built here in Greytown.

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