Managing a pest with a long history of bouncing back

The dry climate and open country of Central Otago and Queenstown Lakes District is a draw card for semi-rural landowners, and for rabbits.

The pest is not a new problem – but it’s one with a long history of bouncing back.​

With rabbits affecting more landowners as land is subdivided in Otago, and a new Regional Pest Management Plan (2019 – 2029) emphasizing the Council’s responsibilities for education and compliance monitoring, Otago Regional Council looked to Whirika for help to develop a way of ensuring peri-urban communities understand and meet their responsibilities for rabbit management.

european rabbits

Based on the information we collected, we recommended supporting communities to take a long term management approach to rabbit control, rather than the current reactive approach, which focussed on expensive knockdown operations with little or no follow-up until rabbits rebounded to plague proportions.

So how does a landowner manage a rabbit problem when rabbits affect the entire community, not just a property? And, how do you get buy-in from communities for a long-term management approach when landowners want a quick-fix?

We worked with council staff to develop and implement an approach for establishing community-led rabbit management programmes in seven rabbit-prone areas in Otago. We developed a plan for communications and engagement with the landowners in all seven areas, including facilitating ORC’s fronting of public meetings and presentations, and helping staff to undertake monitoring programmes and work closely with landowners, ensuring management plans are in place for each property or groups of properties to reduce the impacts of rabbits over time.

The programme has been successful in supporting landowners to work together, fence their properties and control rabbits themselves or by using contractors.

It is a co-operative, long-term approach that works to prevent that yo-yo cycle.