Cat's haul proves rabbits on the rise

Retired Balclutha sheep farmer Jean Leonard says evidence acquired by her cat Puss illustrates the severity of the rabbit problem this season. Photos: Richard Davison
Retired Balclutha sheep farmer Jean Leonard says evidence acquired by her cat Puss illustrates the severity of the rabbit problem this season. Photos: Richard Davison
At least one South Otago feline resident is delighted with an apparent region-wide upsurge in rabbit numbers this spring.

Retired Balclutha sheep farmer Jean Leonard contacted the Otago Daily Times recently to complain of an ''explosion'' of rabbits at her 160ha family farm on the northern outskirts of town.

She provided physical evidence furnished by pet cat Puss, in the shape of a baby rabbit brought to Mrs Leonard the day before.

The offering was the latest in a long succession of dead bunnies - a haul that had left Puss purring, but Mrs Leonard ''fed up''.

''We're being overrun this year. Usually she brings one in every other year, but just in the last fortnight we've had big, small, and everything in between.''

The complaint follows that of Alexandra farmer and former Otago regional councillor Gerry Eckhoff last week, who accused the council of a ''systemic failure'' in rabbit control across the region.

Part of Puss’ recent kill.
Part of Puss’ recent kill.
Mr Eckhoff cited evidence of burgeoning rabbit numbers at Clyde's Dunstan Hospital as pointing to the Otago Regional Council's (ORC) failure to exercise its responsibilities on pest control.

Under current council rules, landowners are primarily responsible for rabbit control.

ORC biosecurity and biodiversity team leader Richard Lord said rabbit management complaints received to date suggested an increase in numbers for 2019.

The council received a total of 40 complaints last year, but had already received 39 during this year.

He said seasonal fluctuations in rabbit populations were common.

''The increase in rabbits observed in some areas is not uncommon for this time of year, but could also be attributed to low rainfall and an easy winter.

''Landowners, whether it be on a farm, lifestyle block, or on Crown land, are responsible for rabbit management.''

Last year's region-wide ''RHDV K5'' viral control effort by the ORC had ''mixed outcomes'', he said.

Results were still being studied.

''Biocontrols like the K5 virus do not replace secondary control measures such as shooting and trapping.

richard.davison@odt.co.nz

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