Rabbit population reduced by 11,968

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The Easter Bunny may be in mourning but the message could not be any clearer — when it comes to Central Otago and Wanaka’s countryside only he is welcome at Easter.

Twenty-five teams of 12 set out to prove that point at the weekend.

On Sunday, the weary hunters from across the South Island and beyond returned to the Dunstan Equestrian Centre near Alexandra to tally the numbers of rabbits killed as part of the expanded-format Great Easter Bunny Hunt.

Traditionally 24 hours long, this year’s Alexandra Lions Club event ran from 8am on Good Friday until Easter Sunday.

The hunt was last held in 2017.

It was cancelled the following year because of the Otago Regional Council K5 rabbit virus release programme.

Further cancellations followed in 2019, due to an extreme fire risk, and last year, because of Covid-19.

The three-year hiatus and the longer timeframe were reflected in the death toll netted from blocks of land from Millers Flat, to Wanaka, and to Lauder.

A total of 11,968 rabbits were shot along with 555 other pests — stoats, possums, turkeys, and more, making for a total of 12,523 animals shot.

In 2017, 8069 rabbits were shot.

Leona Evans, of the secondplaced Hokonui A Team, from Invercargill, said the event was a ‘‘bit wet at the start’’ and ‘‘a bit windy at the end’’.

Team-mate Colin Evans said it was ‘‘good in the middle’’.

Christchurch man Eddie Lai, a member of the Bannockburn Bunny Killers team, said he had fun but believed his team had fared the worst.

‘‘I think we got the least — we only got 100 or so.’’

The winning team was Overkill with 1185 rabbits, runner up was the Hokonui A Team with 1160 rabbits, and the Celine Dion Fan Club Team came third with 1146 rabbits.