Island’s great rabbit cull lays pest to rest

To: Birding-Aus <>
Subject: Island’s great rabbit cull lays pest to rest
From: Peter Shute <>
Date: Sat, 29 Dec 2012 13:46:38 +1100
From The Age, 28/12/12. Would amateur hunters persist if they only shot one 
rabbit each for several months?

Battle of the bunny nears an end  



FOR more thana year hunters have scoured windy hills and tussock flats through 
sub-Antarctic cold, and still there is no sign. 

A wildlife paradise, Macquarie Island looks finally to have been saved from the 
rabbit. Scientists are cautiously optimistic that rabbits may have been 
eradicated from the World Heritage site. 

Lush megaherb fields once destroyed by rabbit teeth are splendid again. Steep 
slopes denuded to the point of landslide are clothed in green. But the hunters 
and their dogs have work ahead. 

‘‘ There are still three or four rabbits we haven’t accounted for,’’ said 
Macquarie’s pest eradication program manager, Keith Springer. ‘‘ It’s starting 
to look likea success, but we’re still hesitant to say that.’’ 

Rabbit eradication would end a decades-long struggle against introduced pests 
in the designated UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage site. 

Rabbits, rats and mice have lived there since 19th century sealers brought 
them, and their numbers exploded after feral cats were trapped and finally shot 
out in 2003. 

Myxamotosis and calicivirus had some success against an estimated 
100,000-strong rabbit population, but the great blow was the poison-baiting of 
the whole island by helicopters through the winter of 2011. 

The $24 million federal-state program appears to have knocked over the rabbits, 
as well as eradicating rodents from the 34-kilometre Southern Ocean wildlife 

Total victory is up to the hunters and their dogs. ‘‘ It’s a pretty tough, 
field-based job,’’ Mr Springer said. ‘‘ There are low temperatures, constant 
strong winds, fog, and the terrain is challenging as well.’’ The 13 men and 
women hunters split up into small teams and head out for tiny field huts for a 
month ata time, accompanied by labradors, springers and terriers trained to 
ignore the teeming seal and seabird colonies. 

Over winter, conditions were so cold that hunters reported that if they stopped 
walking, they would freeze in minutes. 

In the months immediately after the helicopter baiting, the teams accounted for 
13 rabbits, including a doe and kittens. 

But since November 2011, no rabbit has been seen, nor their droppings or 
footprints, and not even a spotlighted eye shine at night. 

Scavenging birds also badly hit by the poison baiting appear to be recovering. 

More than 2200 birds, mainly skuas and giant petrels, died either from eating 
baits or the carcasses of the rabbits and rodents, aSenate estimates was told. 

‘‘ We have noticed a bit of an increase in breeding numbers for these birds,’’ 
Mr Springer said. 

Where the greenery was reduced to a close-cropped grassland, a mosaic of flora 
is reappearing . 

A botanical ecologist with the Tasmanian government, Jennie Whinam, found that 
for the first time in years working on Macquarie, she was able to see an entire 
landscape without rabbit damage. 

Ground-nesting grey and cape petrels, which deserted the island under predation 
from rats, are also coming back. 

Mr Springer said the plan had been to hunt for three years after the baiting. 
‘‘ I think we’ll send another team down next year, and if they haven’t found 
any evidence, that would be it,’’ he said. 

A win on Macquarie would offer global lessons in pest eradication and the 
restoration of natural ecosystems. 

‘‘ Certainly, it is the largest eradication exercise globally for the rabbit,’’ 
he said. 

Copyright © 2012 Fairfax Media

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