Pet food sup­plier could re­duce plague of rab­bits

Central Otago Mirror - - FRONT PAGE - By CHE BAKER

Cen­tral Otago’s rab­bit plague may re­ceive some much-needed re­lief with a com­pany of­fer­ing free shoot­ing for landown­ers in the re­gion. AgStuff man­ager Mur­ray Mil­neMaresca, of In­ver­cargill, said the busi­ness, which had taken about 12 months to set up, sup­plied the pet food in­dus­try which en­abled them to em­ploy con­trac­tors to carry out erad­i­ca­tion pro­grams. ‘‘We are con­stantly look­ing for farms,’’ Mr Milne-Maresca said. The rab­bit pop­u­la­tion in Cen­tral Otago had not been de­creas­ing de­spite the Otago Re­gional Coun­cil en­forc­ing man­age­ment plans and landown­ers spend­ing thou­sands of dol­lars to erad­i­cate the pests. Un­der the coun­cil’s pest man­age­ment strat­egy, landown­ers were re­quired to keep rab­bit num­bers at level three on the mod­i­fied McLean scale - mean­ing only the oc­ca­sional rab­bit was seen and signs of rab­bits were in­fre­quent with fae­cal pel­let heaps more than 10 me­tres apart. Of 60 prop­er­ties in Otago clas­si­fied at or above level three, 50 of them were in Cen­tral Otago. About 15 teams hired by AgStuff cov­ered Cen­tral Otago and South­land with two full­time teams

based in Cen­tral Otago. ‘‘When you have full­time teams work­ing five nights a week it can im­prove (the in­fes­ta­tion),’’ Mr Mil­neMaresca said. Hunters could shoot up to 1500 rab­bits a week, he said. Con­tract shooter Simon Oke said re­ports from hunters were that the rab­bit and hare pop­u­la­tion had re­pro­duced to the stage be­fore the il­le­gal re­lease of rab­bit cali­civirus disease in 1997. On a night’s shoot hunters shot 39 hares in one pad­dock, Mr Oke said. NZ Pet Food man­ager Stephen Alling­ton, of Ti­maru, said rab­bits were sourced by the com­pany on a per-kilo ba­sis from shoot­ers across the South Is­land. Last year about 30,000 rab­bits were sourced and turned into a mix­ture of an­i­mal food but was mainly sup­plied as cat food, Mr Alling­ton said. All shoot­ers had to be reg­is­tered and all landown­ers had to pro­vide ‘‘poi­son state- ments’’ which ei­ther iden­ti­fied ar­eas where poi­son had been used or that it had not been used at all, he said. The pet food was sup­plied to the domestic mar­ket. Otago Re­gional Coun­cil di­rec­tor of re­gional ser­vices Jeff Don­ald­son and ‘‘shoot­ing was a very good tool when rab­bit num­bers are low’’. How­ever, Cen­tral Otago had a high num­ber of rab­bits which could breed faster than shoot­ers could kill them and ‘‘pri­mary poi­son­ing’’ was needed to con­trol them.

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