Making mincemeat

The nature of the rabbit and the speed at which it can reproduce means it is a constant cost.
The nature of the rabbit and the speed at which it can reproduce means it is a constant cost.

Central Otago's rabbit plague may receive some much-needed relief with a company offering free shooting for landowners in the region.

AgStuff manager Murray Milne-Maresca, of Invercargill, said the business, which had taken about 12 months to set up, supplied the pet food industry which enabled them to employ contractors to carry out eradication programs.

"We are constantly looking for farms," Mr Milne-Maresca said.

The rabbit population in Central Otago had not been decreasing despite the Otago Regional Council enforcing management plans and landowners spending thousands of dollars to eradicate the pests.

Under the council's pest management strategy, landowners were required to keep rabbit numbers at level three on the modified McLean scale - meaning only the occasional rabbit was seen and signs of rabbits were infrequent with faecal pellet heaps more than 10 metres apart.

Of 60 properties in Otago classified at or above level three, 50 of them were in Central Otago.

About 15 teams hired by AgStuff covered Central Otago and Southland with two fulltime teams

based in Central Otago.

"When you have fulltime teams working five nights a week it can improve (the infestation)," Mr Milne-Maresca said.

Hunters could shoot up to 1500 rabbits a week, he said.

Contract shooter Simon Oke said reports from hunters were that the rabbit and hare population had reproduced to the stage before the illegal release of rabbit calicivirus disease in 1997.

On a night's shoot hunters shot 39 hares in one paddock, Mr Oke said.

NZ Pet Food manager Stephen Allington, of Timaru, said rabbits were sourced by the company on a per-kilo basis from shooters across the South Island.

Last year about 30,000 rabbits were sourced and turned into a mixture of animal food but was mainly supplied as cat food, Mr Allington said.

All shooters had to be registered and all landowners had to provide "poison statements" which either identified areas where poison had been used or that it had not been used at all, he said.

The pet food was supplied to the domestic market.

Otago Regional Council director of regional services Jeff Donaldson and "shooting was a very good tool when rabbit numbers are low".

However, Central Otago had a high number of rabbits which could breed faster than shooters could kill them and "primary poisoning" was needed to control them.

The Mirror