An Easter bunny slaughter has drawn outrage from an animal welfare group, but Central Otago farmers say the rabbits are running rampant.
Hundreds of hunters gathered in Alexandra to rid farmers of about 23,000 rabbits during the 20th annual Great Easter Bunny Hunt yesterday.
Animal welfare group Safe slammed the event for promoting the misery of animals in a party atmosphere, but farmers hit back, saying resistance to viruses and abundant feed had seen the pest's numbers explode.
Hunt spokesman Dave Ramsay said the rabbit problem was the worst in 20 years. "It's very much approaching critical point again. It seems to run in cycles. There's pockets where it's chronic."
Safe director Hans Kriek said he was against the hunt. "It's seen as a party atmosphere, sending people out as inexperienced hunters blasting away at animals. The ones they kill are one thing, the ones they injure are another."
He also doubted the effectiveness of a 24-hour hunt, which did more to incite cruelty than control the pest.
"You can commit any atrocity you like to animals in the name of hunting, and you fall outside the legislation, which is crazy, because wild animals feel pain just as much as domestic ones," he said.
Federated Farmers Otago president Michael Lord said the hunt was unlikely to make a difference because the infestation was the worst he had seen in 10 years. "There's no easy fix, no silver bullet to kill all of them."
Farmers spend up to $50,000 in pest control a year, including shooting, poisoning and trapping the rabbits, and he disputed that shooting was cruel. "It's instant death more than 90 percent of the time."
This year's event aimed to raise $10,000 for Alexandra St John.
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