Council Funds Rabbit Population Control Efforts

The Otago Regional Council distributed $100,000 to community groups in the area to help manage rabbit populations.

Rabbits at the Otakou Māori cemetery in Dunedin. File photo
Photo: ODT/Stephen Jaquiery

It implemented a sustained pest control program and, for the first time, provided funding for rabbit control through its Eco Fund.

The Hidden Hills Residents Association received $48,883 to fence Wānaka and the Otago Peninsula Biodiversity Group received $14,067 to consult with the community for a rabbit management plan.

The Wentworth Estate Residents Group received $4,050 for a rabbit fence and the Friends of Tucker Beach Wildlife Management Reserve received $33,000 to develop a rabbit management plan around Queenstown.

Libby Caldwell, acting environmental enforcement officer for Otago County Council, says community-based rabbit management initiatives help landowners develop long-term control efforts on their land.

“Rabbits were introduced to New Zealand in the 1800s primarily for meat and for hunting, but without major predators they quickly became a pest and therefore rabbits pose a serious threat to our biodiversity in the environment.

“They destroy gardens and eat tree seedlings and vegetables, they compete with cattle for grazing and ten rabbits can eat as much grass as a sheep.

And they obviously breed like rabbits – so numbers can quickly reach infestation levels if not managed effectively, she said.

The Ministry of Primary Industries has estimated that rabbits cost New Zealand more than $50 million in lost production and another $25 million in direct pest control each year.

“Rabbits are the number one priority pest for us in Otago and as part of the Regional Pest Management Plan, land occupants in Otago are required to ensure rabbit densities on their properties are kept low and this incentive fund allows community groups or groups of neighbors to work together get support to do so.”

The Otago Regional Councils Eco Fund also provided $30,000 to native planting for water quality and $23,000 to native planting after wild pine removal.