Locals take to arms in central Otago as crawling rabbits destroy land

A rabbit invasion destroyed thousands of vines, chewed up fence posts and rose gardens, and left properties in central Otago clogged up, costing landowners thousands of dollars.

The trail of destruction has prompted some to take up arms – though they have never owned a gun before – and shoot them from their lawns.

The local authority says the responsibility for pest control lies with the owners – a position that has infuriated some, who say the responsibility should lie with the council, not them.

Over the past few months, the Otago Regional Council (ORC) has visited over 300 properties in the rabbit-friendly areas of Lake Hayes, Morven Hill, Dalefield, Gibbston Valley and Hawea, and has now sent hundreds of letters to landowners asking them to come. with their own compliance plan to get rid of rabbits.

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But some locals see this as unfair.

Stoneridge Estate vineyard and wedding venue owner Wayne Gore spent more than $ 5,000 on rabbit management this year alone, and said council had not pulled the trigger on the matter.

“We have about 300 inside the property at the moment, and it is with us that we have rabbit proof fences and that we enter our hunter once every three weeks,” said he declared.

Stoneridge Estate owner Wayne Gore said responsibility for controlling rabbit populations should be placed with the Otago Regional Council.

OLIVIA CALDWELL / Tips

Stoneridge Estate owner Wayne Gore said responsibility for controlling rabbit populations should be placed with the Otago Regional Council.

“We (the people of Lake Hayes and the surrounding area) had a meeting three years ago with the Otago Regional Council and since then I don’t know if they actually killed a rabbit.

“They emailed, visited, and talked about it. My 10 and 12 year olds caught more rabbits than they did.

Pest control, however, is not covered by the tariffs paid to the regional council after the service was withdrawn in 2015, as well as by the rabbit board for pest control.

Rabbit boards were created in the late 1940s to control rabbits and were initially subsidized by the government.

ALDEN WILLIAMS / SHOCKS

In Christchurch, daring rabbits hang out near the Transitional Cathedral as the city’s reconstruction continues. (First published in November 2019.)

The Central Otago Easter Bunny Hunt, a traditional rabbit slaughter, produced 12,000 rabbits this year. Before that, the latter bagged 8,069 rabbits in 2017.

The council urged landowners to take their own steps to reduce the rabbit population, suggesting everything from fencing, poisoning and fumigation to shooting them and even “hand digging and plugging burrows. “.

Andrea Howard, the council’s environmental implementation manager, said if residents did not take any of the suggested actions, they would be subject to the Biosafety Act.

Failure to comply after that would lead the council to intervene to control the rabbit population on private or public land – at the owner’s expense.

“We do not have and do not require any resident to put up rabbit proof fences. For properties considered “high risk”, we are asking people to develop a rabbit management plan to achieve compliance by the end of next winter.

Rabbits gnawed countless posts, dug holes and dug under rabbit-proof fences in the Gibbston Valley.

OLIVIA CALDWELL / Tips

Rabbits gnawed countless posts, dug holes and dug under rabbit-proof fences in the Gibbston Valley.

“We recommend that people coordinate with their neighbors to achieve the most effective and long-lasting rabbit management results.”

Several residents of Morven Hill said Thing the rabbits had invaded their land and they could spot at least 100 of their homes each evening. Some had bought guns to deal with the problem.

“The ORC has really dragged the chain of control measures for a very long time… the problem over our 30 years in the region has probably magnified at least 10 times,” said one resident.

Gibbston Valley commercial hunter Sheldon Lye has hunted the area for over 30 years and said the rabbit population has quintupled in the past decade.

“The populations have exploded. It is simply outrageous, it is a soul destroying exercise. You extinguish your plantations and the rabbits invade them.

Lye showed Thing over 7,000 dead vines on a single Gibbston Valley vineyard, all within a $ 10,000 rabbit-proof fence.

The rabbits had eaten fence posts to the core and were replaced with steel posts.

Lye doubted the council’s ability to handle the problem on its own.

“All ORC does is continue to use the same old solutions.

“They have good intentions, but they don’t know what they are talking about, they are administrators and have no experience in slaughtering rabbits. It’s not a one size fits all, and they don’t understand it.

Commercial hunter Sheldon Lye says the rabbit population in central Otago has quintupled in 10 years.

OLIVIA CALDWELL / Tips

Commercial hunter Sheldon Lye says the rabbit population in central Otago has quintupled in 10 years.

The rabbit calicivirus virus was illegally introduced into New Zealand in 1997, made legal in 1999, and for some time was successful as a method of treating rabbits. But the rabbits developed widespread immunity, and the population has since grown.

Lye said the only solution was to re-establish a collective group of hunters and animal experts similar to the Rabbit Council.

Gore said that even while gassing, fencing and shooting the rabbits, he could barely stay on top of the problem.

“It’s a constant struggle. Needless to say, their poo – in terms of weddings and brides – it’s not great.

“There must be rates being paid to the board in the tens of thousands, and we don’t see any of that on this issue. We prefer to deploy our own rabbit control, spend the money on them.

Rabbit hunter Stephen Dickson says the rabbit problem has exploded in recent years.

George Murahidy / Newsroom

Rabbit hunter Stephen Dickson says the rabbit problem has exploded in recent years.

Stephen Dickson, owner of pest control agency Cromwell Kill That Rabbit, has been a rabbit hunter for 12 years and said the growth has been exponential, with the problem growing from a localized problem to a much more widespread one.

“It’s about your neighbors doing something. They are usually not private owners, public owners are the worst of the lot. Land Information NZ, DOC, district council – they don’t do anything. It’s out of control.

“It can be stopped. It’s a big job, but it takes organization. It would take a year to find the right people with the skills to do the job. It may take two or three years to train these people.

“Somewhere, somehow, people have to organize this thing.”

Stoneridge Estate gardener Michael Allen said rabbits took hold of roses, vines and pots all over the property.

“If you come here at eight in the evening, it’s like having a herd of cattle.”


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