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.



Rabbit control brochure




Rabbit management options 

There’s no magic fix, but there are a number of humane methods you can choose from or combine to control rabbits. 


  • Rabbit-proof fencing
  • Habitat change


  • Poison
  • Fumigation
  • Night shooting
  • Trapping
  • 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
  • Check out https://safershooting.co.nz/nz-police/
  • 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.

For more information on the K5 virus, go to:

You can purchase rabbit-proof fencing, traps, bait stations, Pindone and Magtoxin at rural supply stores, or you can look online. Care is required with poisons so follow all directions.

Commercial pest controllers

There are some professional pest controllers in Otago who may be able to help you with rabbit management.

Mainland Vector Contracting Ltd
PO Box 50 Rangiora 7440

Depots in: Arrowtown, Bannockburn, Ida Valley and South Otago

Tony McNutt


027 462 6214

Peter Preston
Preston Pest Control
14 Solar Terrace
Broad Bay
Dunedin 9014


45 Bodkin Street
Lake Hawea 

Mobile 0221955339

Billy Barton, Phoenix SPB Ltd

174 Camphill Road

021 0227 7173

Otago Pest Services

82 Burn Cottage Road

03 445 0310
027 277 4556

Stephen Dickson


021 858 075

Evan Butters

165 McArthur Road
RD 1


03 449 268
027 251 4859


Downer NZ Ltd (t/a Excell Biosecurity)

922A Luggate-Cromwell Road
RD 3
Mount Pisa 9383
Gavin Udy (Project Manager)


03 441 8233
021 687 164

Alec Butters

165 McArthur Road
RD 1


03 449 2688
022 687 7414

Doug Maxwell

178 McGregor Road
RD 1
Alexandra 9391


03 449 2660
0274 341 070




Garry Hilton
PO Box 107



03 4450177

Robert Andrew

R.D. Andrews Contracting Ltd
62 Lower Manorburn Dam Road
RD 3
Alexandra 9393


027 434 3574

Tim Cossens


021 744 665





What is ORC’s role in rabbit management?

  • 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.

Scale Rabbit infestation
1 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.

6 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

K5 What you need to knowThe 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.

Rabbit Map


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:


Keep visiting this webpage and the Biosecurity New Zealand website linked above for more updates.

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