This Easter, New Zealand mulls deadly virus to cull rabbits to curb ‘plague'
Rabbits—a creature that is widely loved and petted—have turned out to be a nuisance for a region in New Zealand that is employing every trick in its trade to eliminate the long-eared animal from the face of the earth.
First introduced in the 1840s for both food and sport, this furry animal has slowly and gradually turned into an invasive creature, threatening the bio-diversity and agriculture of the southern region of Central Otago.
To tackle the menace, the local administration introduced the Central Otago Great Easter Bunny Hunt in the 1990s—an annual bunny hunt event where the landowners have a legal obligation to control them.
However, the central government banned the event for this year due to fire risks and health and safety concerns.
But this hasn’t stopped the rural folks from carrying on with their long tradition as they fear that a lack of alternatives to killing rabbits will lead to a further explosion of the population.
Now, the Otago council is waiting for approval from the government to spread Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV)—a sure-shot viral killer.
This strain of the virus was first imported and introduced illegally to New Zealand in 1997, devastating rabbit populations at the time. Another version from Korea was later legally imported and released in early 2018. However, rabbits have become increasingly immune over time.
Now, local councillors are investigating if it is viable to remove RHDV from the biosecurity’s “unwanted organism list”, which could pave the way for its reintroduction.
In parts of the South Island, the boom is reaching “plague” proportions, a spokesperson for Otago regional council (ORC) told the Guardian on Wednesday.
New Zealand’s ministry of primary industry estimates that rabbits cost the country an estimated NZ$50 million (US$31m) in lost production, and a further $25m in direct pest control each year.
“Densities of up to 16 rabbits per square kilometre have been logged in some places during ORC night-count monitoring,” the council said in a statement.
“Rabbits have an impact on pasture and crops with just 10 rabbits devouring the equivalent of what one sheep requires.”