Kiwis are generally known for being kind, considerate, and peace-loving -- but come Easter time, bunnies beware. In what has become a national tradition of sorts in New Zealand, this holiday weekend hundreds of hunters will take to the hillsides and farmlands with one goal in mind: to kill as many of those cute, fluffy bunnies as they can. In years past, over 20,000 of bunnies have been shot dead in the hunt, and this year is expected to be no different. Shocking, I know -- but what's even more so is that it's all for a noble cause."Each team has 12 shooters, so that means we've got 564 hunters, plus their entourage, the `picker-uppers', the cooks, the supporters, heading out on to farms throughout Central Otago to do battle with the rabbits," says Dave Ramsay, bunny-killing expert.
What's he talking about? Oh, just a little event he's organized for the last decade or so -- called the Great Easter Bunny Hunt.
Forty-seven teams from throughout New Zealand are set to participate in this year's Easter celebration with the aim of eliminating as many bunnies as possible over the weekend. Last year, 23,000 bunnies met an early death in the competition that pits the well-armed against the well-eared.
A cash prize of $2,800 and trophy are awarded to the team that kills the most bunnies, but the contest is about much more than senseless violence. Sure, the true spirit of Easter runs the risk of getting lost in the revelry -- though for Ramsay, this event isn't simply about taking out the Easter bunny, distributor of chocolate and good tithes.
"There's no shortage of rabbits. There's been plenty of food for them and they have been breeding like ... well, like rabbits."
And that's precisely the problem. Certainly, New Zealand is a place of profound natural beauty, native home to a menagerie of species found nowhere else on Earth; the only problem is that bunnies aren't one of them. In fact, they're one of dozens of invasive animals that are making life difficult for everything else, multiplying incessantly and leaving a more than treat-filled plastic eggs in their wake.
There's actually a slew of professional 'rabbiters' that work throughout the year to temper the bunnies' numbers by way of bullets -- oddly violent conservation work, granted, but the rationale is sound enough -- and their efforts are aided by the public's involvement. Last year, Bunny Hunt participants shot more bunnies in one day than some rabbiters are able to in 365.
Since being introduced to New Zealand's delicate ecosystems, bunnies have been able to reproduce unchecked by their natural predators, to the detriment of a host of native wildlife whose habitats have been overrun, so countless indigenous species are well-served by the violent celebration -- though more humane methods are certainly preferred. Catch, sterilize and release programs, for example, could solve the bunny problem, too. And what a problem it is.
After all, nothing spoils Easter brunch quite like the arrival of gluttonous, unwelcome guests, adorable cotton-tail or none.