Hunters Shoot 10,000 Rabbits In The Otago Annual Easter Bunny Hunt

The Easter bunny is officially dead after hunters in the Central Otago district of New Zealand shot 10,000 rabbits on Good Friday.

While most people go hunting for Easter eggs over this long weekend, with the Easter bunny considered sacrosanct, hunters in New Zealand go on one massive, 24-hour rabbit slaughter instead.

Reportedly the rabbits are considered pests in the area and more than 300 hunters, comprising 27 teams, were involved in the hunt. According to organizer Eugene Ferreira, 49, of the Alexandra Lions Club, there were a few ferrets among the dead too.

Ferreira said the event had been held annually for 25 years in the Central Otago district and was introduced after rabbits in the area developed an immunity to poison. The rabbits are reportedly an introduced species and are a "very, very big problem" for farmers, as they cause erosion and eat the crops, especially carrots and cauliflower.

Ferreira, said, "It's a big fun event - hunters are out and awake all night."

According to Ferreira, they have had problems in the past with animal rights activists protesting the hunt, but he said none of them turned up this year.

However, Hans Kriek, executive director of the animal rights organization SAFE, is "dead opposed" to the Easter bunny hunt.

Kriek said the hunt is inhumane, adding, "It's a bunch of amateurs just going out for a bit of a thrill kill."

According to Kriek, when rabbit culls are necessary, they should be done by professional marksmen.

However, Ferreira counters that animal activists do not understand the scale of the rabbit problem in that area of New Zealand.

"People see them as a pet to keep at home until they come here and realize for themselves what we're dealing with," he said.

DW dubbed the event the "Great Easter Bunny Hunt," quoting Ferreira as saying the hunting team "Down South" shot 889 rabbits, giving them a major lead over other groups like the "Hopper Stoppers," who bagged 755 rabbits, the "Happy Hoppers" and "The Anti-Pestos."

Chris Bell, one of the "Down South" hunting team members said they had improved their strategy over the six years they have been competing in the Easter bunny kill. He said at first they just grabbed guns and started shooting. Nowadays they split into groups and are far more organized.

As reported in the Otago Daily Times, event convener Dave Ramsay of Alexandra, said that last year's haul of rabbits was 8,439 and that this year hares would be counted in a team's tally from the rabbit hunt, as they were also considered to be a pest.

Ramsay went on to say the event was a service to farmers. "Well it's free for them. They've been kind enough to offer their farms, and the teams use it as target practice."

According to Ferreira, the weather was "perfect" this Easter weekend and was sunny during the day and temperate at night, when most of the rabbit hunting is by torchlight.

While around 10,000 rabbits were killed this year, reportedly the largest, record-breaking Easter bunny hunt saw 30,000 dead and a total of 297,359 rabbits have been killed over the rabbit hunt event's history.

Ferreira added that most of the dead rabbits will be used as fertilizer. He said in the past, some of the rabbits would have been taken home to eat, but he says the younger sports shooters are less interested in eating game these days.

[Photo via Flickr by Somewhere in the world today... cropped and resized/CC BY 2.0]