Friday, December 1, 2023

Rabbit hunter ‘sceptical’ of ORC programme

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Shooting, not poison, is the best option for lifestyle farmers, he says.
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A long-time Central Otago pest controller is sceptical of the Otago Regional Council’s new plans to target rabbits in the region.

ORC revealed it is dedicating more staff and new initiatives to battle what is thought to have been a summer rabbit plague in parts of Otago.

Rabbit control is the land occupiers’ responsibility, but the ORC is increasing community programmes to assist with monitoring, education and targeting of assistance for smaller property owners. 

In the year to January 2023, 332 Otago properties were inspected by council staff for rabbit infestation, with 209 found to be non-compliant.  Two staff will manage the community-led rabbit programmes and implement new initiatives for the Rabbit Action Plan, developed following two 2022 external reports.

Robert Andrews, a rabbit shooter for 30 years and a previous member of rabbit boards, said he has heard it all before.

“Any improvement will be something,” Andrews said. 

“But I’m really quite skeptical of them [ORC] actually doing anything that is going to be of practical help.

“Every year they say something like this and nothing changes.”

Andrews said many of the larger farms have rabbit control programmes in place, and numbers are under control.

“If you can keep your numbers down with shooting, it’s like a maintenance programme.

“The farmers I work for are all of the same mindset. They just want to keep the numbers down as low as possible.”

Andrews, who works on farms in the Ida Valley, Central Otago and Hāwea, said they are now shooting, on average, about 100 rabbits a week. 

When rabbit numbers were at their worst, it was 200-300 a night.

“Some of these properties we’ve been hammering for six or seven years really hard now. If you’ve got big numbers of rabbits it takes a number of years to shoot them out.”

Lifestyle farms and subdivisions have added to the rabbit problem. If the ORC issues enforcement notices to a lifestyler they could just point to a neighbouring property with the same rabbit issues.

He believes shooting is the best option for lifestyle farmers, “but it’s specialised and it’s going to cost you money”.

The close proximity of buildings and neighbours, and the risk of bullet ricochets mean it can be hazardous and there’s “a lot of liability if things go wrong”.

“The problem is pindone [poison] doesn’t really work. They keep pushing it because it’s an easy poison to use and people feel that they are doing something. But it’s not great.

“I have a relatively good grasp of pest control in Central Otago. I’m not saying I’m an expert but you’ve got to keep an open mind as to what’s going to work.”

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