If we lose 1080, we're shot: Butcher

Graeme Martin
Graeme Martin
Rabbit numbers could get out of control in Otago if any of the most effective tools used to curb their numbers is lost, the Otago Regional Council has warned.

"If we lose 1080, we're shot, well and truly," Cr Duncan Butcher said at a compliance committee meeting this week.

Council chief executive Graeme Martin asked the committee to commit to "reinvigorate a leadership" on the protection and development of new rabbit control tools.

Rabbit control was a "never ending, costly and difficult battle" on much of Otago's land as it was inherently rabbit prone, he said in a report to the committee.

"Over 120 years or more, introduced rabbits have been very damaging in environmental and economic terms."

Regular monitoring of rabbit numbers throughout Otago in the past 12 years had shown control was still needed as numbers were not going down overall, he said.

He warned that if any tools used - 1080, pindone-type toxin baits, diseases or hunting - "fell over" then the region would be in "serious difficulty".

With 1080 under constant pubic attack mainly for its use as Tb control, some councils were moving to make its use more stringently controlled to the point of banning it, and at the same time, use of anti-coagulant toxins - the only serious alternative to 1080 - was also coming under attack, he said.

"If we lost that, in two years' time, it would be irretrievable, rabbit numbers would be out of control, unless we've got the tools."

There was new research beginning in Australia looking at rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD) genetic resistance, but work being done in Europe was to ensure immunity or resistance to the disease was increased, he said.

Chairman Stephen Cairns proposed Mr Martin, or someone he nominated, go to Australia to investigate the research being done there.

Cr Butcher said the council could not just be the policeman through its new regional pest management strategy; it needed to get proactive.

Someone needed to "get on a plane post haste" to see if there was anything in the Australian research that could help Otago.

"We have to be on top of what is happening with RHD."

Cr Gretchen Robertson said while the council did need to start some leadership, it was also at serious risk if it pinned all its hopes on a "silver bullet" from Australia, as it was putting off the inevitable discussion on issues such as 1080 being phased out and immunity.

"We need some serious risk analysis, what would happen in the worst-case scenario."

Cr Michael Deaker said the council could not afford to "take its foot off the throat" of rabbit numbers, so needed to look at linking up with research facilities, like Invermay Agricultural Centre in Mosgiel and the University of Otago, to encourage accelerated research in the area.

"Not just about killing rabbits but stopping them reproducing. Let's find a long-term really big solution."

Cr Gerry Eckhoff, a Roxburgh farmer, said there was a real fear out there that 1080 could be "ushered out", but it was imperative it be retained as last year's dry spring had allowed vast numbers of young rabbits to survive.

The committee recommended actions be considered to invigorate leadership on protection and development of rabbit control tools and the chief executive should follow up on overseas and local research.


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