Rabbit Hunt Instead of Egg Hunting: The Dreadful Easter Tradition in Central Otago

Central Otago
A shocking tradition: a New Zealand community hunts rabbits at Easter

In Central Otago, rabbits are on the Easter Kill List (avatar)

© Hinrich Bäsemann / Picture Alliance

While people in many places look forward to the Easter bunny on the Easter holidays, they are being tracked in New Zealand. At the Great Easter Bunny Hunt, rabbits are traditionally killed by hunters from all over the country – because they pose a threat to the country.

There is no Easter without the Easter bunny: For many, the floppy, furry ear of its colorful eggs is inextricably linked to the Easter holiday – the Easter visitor that the whole family looks forward to. However, things are very different in Alexandra, in the Central Otago region, on the South Island of New Zealand: traditionally, thousands of rabbits are hunted here at Easter, and poachers come from all over the country. After a three-year hiatus, the tradition was revived last Good Friday and the four-legged friends were opened fire.

“Hunt the Great Easter Bunny” to fight the plague

Under the somewhat shocking title “The Great Easter Bunny Hunt” (German: Große Osterhasenjagd), 25 teams, each consisting of twelve hunters, have been hunting the rabbits this year. Their goal: to make an impact on the animal population curve – because they have proven to be a real nuisance for the country. The non-resident rabbits were introduced in the 19th century and simultaneously invaded central Otago and pose a serious threat to the area’s biodiversity and agriculture. On the outside, your event might sound like “total devastation,” says Jadgleiter Dave Ramsey, “Guardian”. But: “The rabbit is a recognized pest, and I think society fully supports its research – a lot of people now put it in their vegetable gardens.” The last demonstration against the Easter bunny hunt took place 15 years ago.

Easter Holiday

Traditional fishing

The Alexandra Lions Club has been organizing a hunting event for over 25 years and not only shows its support for local farmers affected by rabbit plague: Meanwhile, the Big Easter Bunny Hunt is also being raised as a fundraising campaign for the entrepreneurial community. Ramsay says it’s a social event that many attendees look forward to throughout the year. “This has always been the Easter bunny hunting. For some people, this signifies that it’s a time for religious celebration and fun for the kids as well – a lot of kids participate in the event.”

In the past three years, this fun had to be abandoned for the whole family: in 2018 the government allowed the use of the rabbit virus against animals, in 2019 there was a severe risk of fire, and last year the Corona virus thwarted the hunter’s bill. Because of the long break, the Easter bunny hunt was extended this Easter: instead of just 24 hours, hunters were allowed to shoot rabbits from 8 a.m. on Good Friday until 12 noon on Easter. In total, nearly 12,000 animals were killed, along with more than 500 stoards, possums, turkeys and other pests. This hunting result is a “very impressive sum,” according to Ramsay, but it also shows the enormous extent of rabbit plague. However, the participants themselves are already looking forward to the upcoming Easter bunny hunt next year: “Yesterday there was a show of hands on whether they’d come back next year, and it was unanimous.”

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