Hunting for chocolate eggs is a popular Easter event but in New Zealand it was bunnies in the firing line at an annual rabbit-shooting event in one district where they are regarded as pests. Ten thousand rabbits were shot by more than 300 hunters in 27 teams during the 24-hour â€œbunny huntâ€, which began on Good Friday. Among the hunters were a few ferrets, according to organiser Eugene Ferreira. Ferriera, 49, president of the Alexandra Lions Club, said the event had been running annually for 25 years in the Central Otago district, and was organised after rabbits - an introduced species - developed immunity to poison. â€œItâ€™s a big fun event - hunters are out and awake all night,â€ he said. Ferreira said the rabbits were a â€œvery, very big problemâ€ for farmers because they cause erosion and eat crops, particularly carrots and cauliflower. In previous years animal rights activists have protested against the hunt, but Ferriera said none came this year.
However, Hans Kriek, executive director of animal rights organisation SAFE, told his group was â€œdead opposedâ€ to the hunt.
â€œItâ€™s inhumane,â€ he said. â€œItâ€™s a bunch of amateurs just going out for a bit of a thrill kill.â€
Ferriera said animal activists did not understand the scale of the rabbit problem in the area. â€œPeople see them as a pet to keep at home until they come here and realise for themselves what weâ€™re dealing with,â€ he said.
This year, the winning team, â€œDown Southâ€, shot 889 rabbits, beating â€œHopper Stoppersâ€ with 755. The largest ever Easter total was 30,000. Most of the dead rabbits will be used as fertiliser.
Ferreira said in the past that a few rabbits would have been taken home to eat but that no longer happened as younger sport shooters were less interested in eating game.