NZ Farmer - Manawatu's rabbit population on the rise

Written by Jono Galuszka

Rabbits are rallying in Manawatū, as monitoring reveals the population has grown in the past two years.

But it is yet to become a serious problem, with the region's long grass and damp winters creating a natural culling season.

Horizons Regional Council biosecurity and partnerships manager Rod Smillie gave the council's environment committee a rundown on the situation on Wednesday.

Eleven rabbit night counts were completed between May and June. Results indicated the population was slightly higher than in the last count in June 2016.

But the rise was not great. In 2016, officials found 1.13 rabbits per kilometre.

That figure rose to 1.42 rabbits during the last count, Smillie said.

To put things in perspective, someone who saw one rabbit at night while spotlighting would have to drive 3.34km on a quad bike before seeing another, he said.

The Modified McLean Scale, used to rate rabbit infestations, rated the Horizons areas at two or three out of 10.

"Zero is no rabbits, while up above eight the hills are moving," Smillie said.

The rabbits were breeding and people would start to see more of them.

But a combination of wet weather and long grasses in winter would result in a cull rate of near 95 per cent through illnesses like phenomena, he said. 

"Dairy farming is great for keeping them under control."

Rabbits can be a real problem for agriculture, with Otago farmers having a decades-long battle with the furry creatures, which destroy pasture.

Viruses have been released there in an effort to get the population under control.

Smillie said a virus could be introduced in Manawatū, but the situation would have to warrant it.

Such situations could include localised areas with very bad rabbit infestations, he said.