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New Zealand Rabbits


New Zealand Rabbits

New Zealand Rabbits

Native to Portugal and Spain, the Oryctolagus cuniculus or common European rabbit has adjusted to that area’s irregular Mediterranean weather. Rabbits have the ability to make full use of the good seasons and multiply fast with the availability of food.


They can also thrive during long periods of droughts, often digesting their own feces in order to absorb added nutrients.


Rabbits are especially well adjusted to the drier regions of New Zealand, where rates of survival of the offspring are high.

Rabbits were imported to New Zealand and freed for both sport and food at various areas as even as far back as the 1830s.


As soon as the rabbits had adapted to their new environment, their numbers increased to uncontrollable proportions many times over. The first plague caused by rabbits began in the beginning of the 1870s and slowly died out at around 1895. Another growth happened in the beginning of the 1920s. In the 1940s there was a major outbreak, and again more recently in the latter part of the 1980s.

Millions of New Zealand dollars have been spent on the control of rabbits and more has been lost because of damage to farms. Their affect on the South Island’s drier areas can be best described as an ecological disaster, as the grazed off vegetation by rabbits has never recuperated.


The biggest affected regions were once abundantly covered with grasses, tussock, and small shrubs which are now sparsely covered with vegetation. This has led to wearing away by rain and wind. The soil loss has resulted in areas where only the sturdiest plants will grow. Rabbit burrows in some types of soil and on steep slopes have also resulted in soil erosion.
A rabbit population was established in the inshore sand hills between Riverton and Invercargill in the 1860s. In the start of the 1870s, this area’s rabbits started migrating up the nearby river banks right into the inland plains. In 1875 they were well established in Central Otago. In the beginning of the 1880s, rabbits had infested all parts of Southland and Otago and had started to overrun Canterbury. By the 1890s they had invaded the Mackenzie Country.


In 1858, rabbits were introduced inland from Blenheim and yet again 7 years later. At the start of the 1870s they spread out up the Awatere and Wairau rivers into domestic Marlborough. Simultaneously, silver-grey rabbits that had been introduced near Kaikōura and approximately 1862 migrated into the drier inland regions. By 1887 both of these species began trespassing in North Canterbury on the district of Amuri.

The first plague brought by rabbits reached an all time high in the South Island by 1895. Afterwards, the population of rabbits stayed high in the semi-dry area of Central Otago, but fell noticeably in other areas. A majority of central Canterbury stayed relatively free of the vermin. Nevertheless, in later rabbit outbreaks the area did not escape unscathed.

The dynamics and timing of the rabbit infestation in the North Island was different from that of the South Island. The wide areas of forest and heavier rainfall stymied their proliferation.



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