New Zealand town where Easter is all about wiping about bunnies
New Zealand hunters have celebrated a return to tradition this Easter: shooting thousands of rabbits, an introduced species that threatens the country’s biodiversity as well as agriculture.
The Great Easter Bunny Hunt – where hundreds of hunters gather in Alexandra, Central Otago, to make a dent in the regional rabbit population – was held this weekend for the first time since 2017.
The Alexandra Lions club has organised the event for more than 25 years as both a fundraiser for community projects and a show of support for local farmers whose lands are blighted by rabbits as agricultural pests.
It was also eagerly anticipated as a social event, said long-time convenor Dave Ramsay, with 25 teams of 12 shooters travelling from all over the country to take part this weekend. “It’s something they look forward to from year to year.
“It’s always been the Easter Bunny Hunt. That has a connotation for some people as a time of religious celebration and also a fun time for kids – but a lot of kids participate in our event.”
After successive cancellations due to, in 2018, the Otago regional council’s K5 rabbit virus release programme, an extreme fire risk in 2019, and coronavirus in 2020, the hunt was expanded from 24 hours to two nights this year.
Between 8am on Good Friday and noon on Easter Sunday 11,968 rabbits were shot, along with 555 stoats, possums, turkeys and other pest animals. Ramsay said it was a “very presentable total” but unlikely to have a significant impact on rabbit populations in the area – testament to their great numbers.
Since being introduced to New Zealand in the 1800s, rabbits have overrun the Central Otago region, posing a significant threat to biodiversity and agriculture. The Otago council requires land occupiers to control rabbits but it was an uphill battle, said Ramsay. “It’s a problem that’s not going away.”
While some would see the hunt as a “mass destruction-type thing”, he said, the last protest over the bunny bloodshed had been 15 years ago. “It’s a recognised pest and I think the community’s in full support of it – a lot of people have them in their veggie gardens now.”
More than meaningfully tackle the rabbit problem, Ramsay said, the hunt “does highlight it in the public eye – and it also gives the farmers a bit of a break from their vigilance”.
The winner of this year’s trophy for most rabbits shot was Overkill, totalling 1,185 – just ahead of the Hokonui A Team with 1,160 rabbits.
Third-place winners the Celine Dion Fan Club took 1,146 rabbits. Ramsay said he had inquired after the origins of their team name and found that it had “nothing to do with rabbits … It’s something very personal to the 12 shooters, I believe.”
He said many teams had been entering under the same names for years. “There was a show of hands yesterday as to whether they are coming back next year and it was unanimous.”
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