12 Jun 2014

Bunnies bouncing back from RHD

6:50 am on 12 June 2014

A Landcare Research ecologist has used the annual Alexandra Easter Bunny Hunt shoot to figure out the impact of rabbit-killing virus Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD).

In a major biosecurity breach, RHD was illegally released in New Zealand by farmers in 1997.

Landcare Research ecologist Carlos Rouco Zufiaurre has looked at the kill statistics of the annual hunt in Otago before and after RHD was released.

He said while the virus initially took a huge toll, the rabbit population was bouncing back.

"What happened with the first outbreak, most of the rabbits that didn't have resistance actually collapsed - I mean they died," he said.

"But of the few that were obviously alive, it's because they have some resistance and we have to be aware (now) that the population is slightly increasing."

Mr Zufiaurre is from Spain and was involved in rabbit conservation there.

He said rabbits in parts of Spain were protected as they were the main prey for critically endangered predators, such as the Iberian Lynx and the Iberian Imperial Eagle.