20 Nov 2017

Moeraki rabbit plague: 'They're cleaning out everything'

6:30 pm on 20 November 2017

Moeraki residents have a battle on their hands as a warm spring and plenty of feed have combined to create what locals describe as a plague of rabbits.

Carcasses litter the roads and burrows pock the hillsides and parks of the coastal Otago settlement, and the township wants help to fight back.

Moeraki Village Holiday Park owner Robbie Mitchell said the population was larger than he had ever seen.

"[The population has] probably doubled in size from two years ago - they're cleaning out everything," he said.

"You could drive from the main road into Moeraki, which is probably a kilometre and a half, and you'd see 50 to 60 rabbits on the road."

The proportion of the plague became most obvious in the evening and morning, when the roads and hills crawled with them, he said.

Residents were pinning their hopes on an application for the release of a new strain of the Rabbit Haemorrhagic Virus Disease, Jan Wheeler said.

Residents were pinning their hopes on an application for the release of a new strain of the Rabbit Haemorrhagic Virus Disease, Jan Wheeler said. Photo: RNZ / Tim Brown

For farmers and land owners the plague was causing destruction.

"They're eating a lot of the grass the stock would have... Some of the farms around here have tens of thousands on there," he said.

"People with gardens unless you've got it fenced - rabbit-proofed - you're wasting your time."

He had seldom had to cut the grass at the holiday park as a result of the rabbit numbers.

Mr Mitchell believed the Otago Regional Council should step in and help residents.

The rabbit numbers are causing problems for farmers and land owners by causing destruction and eating the grass that would have fed stock, said Robbie Mitchell.

The rabbit numbers are causing problems for farmers and land owners by causing destruction and eating the grass that would have fed stock, said Robbie Mitchell. Photo: RNZ / Tim Brown

He was not alone - Waitaki district councillor for Waihemo ward Jan Wheeler said the regional council was needed.

"We'd just like to find a solution because it's becoming unmanageable, really," she said.

Residents had pinned their hopes on the release of a new strain of the Rabbit Haemorrhagic Virus Disease, she said.

The application was before the Ministry for Primary Industries and had already faced delays.

It could be another year before it was released in Moeraki, she said.

Otago Regional Council director environmental monitoring and operations Scott MacLean said if approved, the town was a priority for release of the strain.

"It's certainly no silver bullet, but if we are able to release that it will help land occupiers in their rabbit control efforts," he said.

Mrs Wheeler said the inability to shoot or poison rabbits in residential areas had caused the population to explode in Moeraki.

But Mr MacLean said there were at least two poisoning agents which were available to land owners and could be used in the town.

The council was developing advice to take to residents about what measures could be used, he said.

At present pest control was in the hands of land owners, but the council was also reviewing that policy and residents could provide feedback on the strategy.

In the mean time, he recommended residents should seek out the council's advice and utilise measures such as rabbit-proof fencing.

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