Our environment is our most important asset. We work with the community to ensure the sustainable use of our natural resources. The future of our beautiful region starts with protecting and caring for it today.
We provide bus services in Queenstown and Dunedin to help you get to where you need to go. Our journey planner can help you figure out which bus route is best for you. For those unable to access the bus service we administer the Total Mobility scheme which provides access to subsidised taxi fares.
Rabbits are the #1 pest in Otago.They were introduced to NZ in the 1800s for meat and hunting, but quickly became a pest. Unfortunately for Otago, they love the high country and dry areas, which is why we have such a big problem, especially in Central Otago.
Why are rabbits a pest?
They are a serious threat to our biodiversity and environment
They ruin beautiful landscapes with rabbit holes, and cause soil erosion and degradation
They destroy gardens and eat tree seedlings and veges
They breed like, well, rabbits. Rabbits as young as five months’ old can have up to 50 babies a year.
Ten rabbits can eat as much grass as one sheep, which affects pastoral production
Did you know that as a property owner, you’re responsible for rabbit management on your land? These rules apply whether you’re a farmer, the Crown, own a life-style block or a section of land.
There’s no magic fix, but there are a number of humane methods you can choose from or combine to control rabbits.
Viruses, these are a short-term fix to reduce rabbit numbers. ORC is responsible for any release of viruses. Other control methods still need to be used
Science, e.g. sterilisation via gene-driven technology (still in development)
Rabbit management is more effective in autumn/winter, when rabbit numbers are lowest and they aren’t breeding.
Rabbit-proof netting fence is the best way to protect your land. The mesh size should be no larger than 3cm. The fence height should be at least 1042mm, with a 15cm apron or buried 20cm into the ground.
Regularly maintain your fence and make sure rabbits aren’t burrowing under the bottom.
Cylinders of rabbit netting, plastic netting or sheet steel guards are also useful for protecting young trees or shrubs from rabbits.
Removal of vegetation and other materials that hide rabbits such as wood piles and small shrubs/bushes will make it easier to manage them.
Poisons are a cost-effective approach for reducing rabbit numbers, and Pindone is ideal for lifestyle and semi-rural properties.
Pindone may need to be put out twice, with around 3-4 days between laying the bait
Poisoning works best in winter but can be carried out at other times of the year
Work with your neighbours so a wider area is covered and the operation is more effective
To avoid rabbits becoming bait-shy, leave at least three years between poison operations
Pindone has a low risk of toxicity to domestic pets (e.g. cats and dogs) but is toxic to birds
Make sure stock and pets (and children!) don’t have access to the area Pindone has been put out
Bury uneaten pellets after 5-7 days. This prevents bait shyness as well as sub-lethal bait making rabbits immune to it
How to use Pindone
Follow the Pindone instructions
Put out more than enough bait for all the rabbits in the area
If all the bait is gone in one day, you probably haven’t put out enough
Don’t put out Pindone pellets if heavy rain is forecast
Pindone can be applied three ways:
Cut spits (sods of overturned earth) and put Pindone pellets beside these. Rabbits love the smell of fresh earth
Put some pellets near rabbit droppings
Use a rabbit bait station
Follow safety precautions as per the Pindone instructions
Magtoxin is a solid fumigant and easy to use. Magtoxin tablets react with water vapour from the soil and air, and release a poisonous and flammable gas called hydrogen phosphide. This gas is heavier than air, and flows down the burrow.
Follow the Magtoxin directions carefully. If used correctly, fumigation will kill all rabbits in a burrow
Many burrows have more than one entrance so make sure you locate all of them
We recommend using a dog to hunt the area first, which will help drive the rabbits into the burrow. Make sure the dog is restrained before you start fumigating
Note that Magtoxin will only work in burrows and is not suitable for rabbits living in piles of rocks or under buildings
Make sure you follow all safety precautions carefully, including handling and storage instructions
Be aware of the symptoms of poisoning and the recommended first aid treatment
How to fumigate a rabbit borrow:
Use a spade or grubber to cut back the opening of the burrow for easy access to it
Cut a sod of earth big enough to completely block the entrance, and keep it within easy reach
Before applying the fumigant, make sure you’re upwind so any escaping fumes are blown away from you
Take the correct amount of fumigant from the container then close it immediately. Only open the container in open air
Place the fumigant at least 30-40 cm into the burrow
Seal the burrow by placing the sod of earth, pasture side down, into the entrance (this prevents loose soil falling onto and burying the fumigant)
Stamp the sod in to make the borrow as air tight as possible
Backfill and level the ground around the entrance to remove as much of the entrance as possible
Repeat for all burrow entrances
If there are cobwebs over the burrow entrance, it’s probably not being used. We advise blocking the entrance to prevent rabbits using it in the future.
If you are using Magtoxin in very dry conditions, we recommend scrunching some damp newspaper down the burrow after the fumigant has been applied. This will speed up the generation of the poisonous gas.
Regular shooting is effective to keep rabbit numbers low
Note that you cannot shoot a rifle in urban areas and you must hold a firearms licence
You can use an air rifle without having a firearms licence if you’re over 18 years of age and follow safety precautions
We suggest you contact neighbours before carrying out any shooting
Make sure you positively identify your target before shooting – safety first!
Shooting is most effective at night, when the sky is overcast and there is little or no wind
Shine a spotlight within the range of the firearm. Don’t look too far ahead for rabbits as they may move if disturbed by the light
Work into the wind where possible
Return to areas where rabbits may have been missed and, if possible, approach from a different direction
Take note of any holes or warrens so they can be fumigated. Also look for rabbit habitat such as piles of fallen trees or scrub cover so these can be removed. Where possible, fumigate holes while night shooting
Set traps where there are fresh signs of rabbits
The law states you must check traps at least once every 24 hours
Check with your local council that traps are permitted under by-laws
Trapping is time-consuming when compared with other methods, but can be useful for lower rabbit numbers
We recommend trapping as an option only for those with experience in trapping
In March 2018, ORC released a rabbit virus at 100 sites throughout Otago. The RHDV1 K5 (K5) virus is a Korean variant of a strain that was already in New Zealand, and was spread nationally in a coordinated programme. The K5 virus is only harmful to rabbits and doesn’t affect any other animals.
Viruses need to be left to spread naturally, otherwise it can result in rabbit immunity to the virus.
Biocontrol such as the K5 virus gives us the opportunity to reduce rabbit numbers to a level where they are manageable. Viruses do not replace secondary control measures from land owners such as shooting, poisoning and fumigation.
The virus will continue to kill rabbits for years to come, with peak impact in early summer and also in autumn.
We monitor rabbit numbers throughout Otago. We do this through night counts, where we travel along a set marked route and count the number of rabbits seen in the light beam. Night counts are carried out at least annually, at a number of locations throughout Otago.
We take enforcement action when rabbit numbers exceed the Modified McLean Scale (see below) on properties
We provide education and support
We contribute funding both nationally and internationally for pest management research
ORC used to carry out rabbit management, but this ended when ratepayers decided they would prefer to pay for it themselves instead of via their rates. Rabbit management is now the responsibility of the land owner.
What is the Modified McLean Scale (MAL)?
MAL is a scale used by councils to determine rabbit levels. It helps with regulation to make sure land owners are managing rabbit numbers to a level set in the Pest Plan. Otago’s Pest Plan has set the scale for Otago at MAL 3.
As a rule of thumb, if you see groups of rabbit droppings less than 10 metres apart, there’s a problem and you need to take action.
No sign found. No rabbits seen
Very infrequent sign present. Unlikely to see rabbits.
Pellet heaps spaced 10m or more apart on average. Odd rabbits seen; sign and some pellet heaps showing up.
Pellet heaps spaced between 5m and 10m apart on average. Pockets of rabbits; sign and fresh burrows very noticeable.
Pellet heaps spaced 5m or less apart on average. Infestation spreading out from heavy pockets.
Sign very frequent with pellet heaps often less than 5m apart over the whole area. Rabbits may be seen over the whole area.
Sign very frequent with 2-3 pellet heaps often less than 5m apart over the whole area. Rabbits may be seen in large numbers over the whole area.
Sign very frequent with 3 or more pellet heaps often less than 5m apart over the whole area. Rabbits likely to be seen in large numbers over the whole area.
K5 Rabbit Virus - What you need to know
The K5 rabbit virus has been released in Otago, and we need your help to make sure it has maximum impact.
Do not move any rabbit carcases. It’s vital they are left in place so the virus can spread naturally. Moving carcases can dilute the strength of the virus and result in rabbits being immune to it.
The virus is spread by rabbit-to-rabbit contact, and also by flies.
Please be patient. Don’t worry if you don’t see rabbit carcases straight away. It could be six weeks or more until the full impact of the K5 virus is seen.
We encourage landowners to make secondary control plans for the winter months to take advantage of the lower rabbit numbers. Ongoing rabbit control will be necessary.
We remind pet rabbit owners to make sure vaccinations are up to date.
This map below indicates release sites around Otago. Our expectation is a spread of 20km from each release site within the next two months. This covers most of Otago!
Any areas the virus doesn’t reach this year should be reached by natural spread next year. Note that the gap in the middle of Otago is higher altitude with low rabbit populations.
Information for pet rabbit owners
The RHDV2 virus has been confirmed in New Zealand. Cases of this have been picked up as part of monitoring the effectiveness of the controlled calicivirus K5 release that was undertaken earlier in the year. Biosecurity New Zealand will continue the surveillance programme to help us understand the new strain's spread.
Steps pet and farmed rabbit owners can take to minimise the risk
There are a number of practical steps rabbit owners can take to minimise the risk to their rabbits of contracting a rabbit virus.
Controlling insects (especially flies and fleas) as much as possible both indoors and outdoors. Flies are the main vector through which the virus is spread.
Remove uneaten food on a daily basis as to not attract flies.
Keep pet rabbits indoors where possible.
Rabbit-proof backyards to prevent access by wild rabbits.
Regularly decontaminate equipment and materials (eg. cages, hutches, bowls) with either 10% bleach or 10% sodium hydroxide. Leave for 10 minutes, then rinse off.
Limit contact with and handling of unfamiliar pet rabbits. Take special precautions if attending any events where unfamiliar rabbits are present, such as petting zoos, rabbit shows and rescue centres.
Use good biosecurity measures (eg. wash hands, shoes and clothing) after handling other people's rabbits.
Isolate new rabbits for 7 days before introducing to other rabbits.
Rinse all leafy greens well before feeding them to rabbits. While feeding rabbits leafy greens remains a risk for introducing rabbit viruses, the benefits of feeding these is considered to outweigh the risks.
The RHDV2 strain is unique from the RHDV1 K5 virus so ensure your pet rabbits have been immunised with the vaccine Filavac to protect them against RHDV2. Please see the information Biosecurity New Zealand have put together regarding: