Rabbit onslaught

I lack live rabbit photos but ours was a Peter Rabbit household on account of our second born being a huge fan

The rabbits have come to Tikorangi. Not just our garden but the whole area, Cute though Peter, Mopsy and Flopsy may be in Beatrix Potter books, this is one animal the early settlers introduced that this country did not need. That is equally true of rats, possums, mice, stoats, goats, wild pigs and deer but it is the rabbits that I am thinking about today. I guess we should be grateful that we didn’t get moles, squirrels or snakes in that early drive to Englify New Zealand. And would we really have appreciated beavers if they had been introduced?

Every morning, I do a patrol of my new gardens to kick over the rabbit scrapes and to check what the family that appear to live somewhere under the boundary hedge have been eating now. The swimming-pool-deck family like to eat the liriope, but that doesn’t worry me. They do not touch mondo grass so if I really wanted that coarse grass look, I could just replace the lirope with mondo.

I have a block around 4 square metres of this campanula but it did not look like this last spring. In fact it never got past being chewed rosettes of foliage trimmed to the ground.

The hedge family are more problematic. I have put cages made from wire hoops over the perovskia when it looked as though they might eat all the plants to the ground. Their love of campanulas is more problematic. I can garden without the ground-hugging campanula with its mounds of blue flowers. I would prefer to be able to garden with it in that area, but it is not a key plant. The other three I use, I want to keep and I shall be seriously annoyed if they persist with their onslaught. Those areas are too large to cage so I am trying the blood and bone deterrent.

The austroderia and Chionocloa flavicans look even more similar in the juvenile stage when both are heavily chewed by rabbits. Now dusted in blood and bone as deterrent. 

Meantime, Chionochloa rubra is unscathed

In the newly planted grass garden, it appears that native Chionochloa flavicans (often described as dwarf toe toe) is irresistible. Every plant is under siege from the rabbits. So too do they appreciate the proper toe toe – austroderia. It is going to take vigilance and determination to get these plants sufficiently established to withstand the attack. However, they leave C. flavicans relative, Chionochloa rubra alone. I guess wiry red tussock is not as yummy.

I may yet to have cut my losses, move the desirable campanulas to safer areas of the garden, cage the austoderia and find a replacement for C. flavicans but I am not quite at that point yet. In the meantime, I can be found outside after each rain with my bucket of blood and bone and a measuring spoon, sprinkling the lightest layer over the vulnerable plants. It works but it does require vigilance.

Dudley and Spike are line up waiting for breakfast – homekill possum

Rabbits are not easy to eliminate. Mark does a nightly possum round with the dogs and keeps the possum population under control with high velocity lead, as he describes it (shooting, in common parlance). The dogs find this part of their daily routine positively thrilling and hover around in anticipation for a good hour or two before this evening ritual. He maintains some level of rat control all the time. With a stream, bush and a macadamia orchard next door, rats are a part of country life. When the population is small, he uses cage traps but when it explodes, as it has this season, he resorts to bait stations. He is amazed at the amount of bait that has been eaten in recent months. It is really important to secure the baits, as a pest control officer once told me, because if they are loose, the rats will just remove them and store them up against possible future famine.

But rabbits…. They are hard to shoot in heavily planted areas like a garden, being skittery animals who run rather than freeze when they sense danger. They are not a suitable candidate for trapping and they are hard to poison. Despite our dogs being fox terriers, they only catch the occasional one, usually a baby.

So besotted with Peter Rabbit was our second-born that I bought her the Wedgewood teaset

In desperation, I bought some rabbit bait. We are not poison fans here at all and avoid it when we can. We lost our dear little Wilfred dog to secondary poisoning from cholecalciferol (the active ingredient in an over the counter possum poison to which there is no antidote) used by somebody else. Zephyr the sheltie (now deceased from other causes) had to be taken to the vet for a Vitamin K injection when he got into rat bait. So Mark was cautious about the rabbit bait, even laid carefully, following the instructions. It has to be accessible to the rabbits which means it is also accessible to the dogs. He headed out first thing the next morning to gather up the baits so the dogs wouldn’t get them and as he scooped them up, Dudley dog was in like a flash eating one. It put Mark off using poison because we could so easily lose another dog to slow and irreversible poisoning.

We may just have to learn to live with the rabbits, especially as other neighbours in the district are complaining about the rabbit population. When there appeared to be a dip in the population last year, we found ourselves hoping that a feral cat or stoat had moved into the area and that is a real compromise of principles.

How much easier life would be in NZ had it only been colonised with domestic and farm animals. It is really unusual to live in a country with absolutely zero native animals of the furred or hairy variety. When it comes to mammals, we only have two, very small, native bats that almost nobody has seen. In the short space of time since the arrival of all the introduced animals, we are nowhere near achieving any balance within nature to keep numbers in check.

When I looked, we still seem to have quite a lot of Beatrix Potter memorabilia, waiting to be reclaimed by our second-born.

14 thoughts on “Rabbit onslaught

  1. Hanneke/Hannah

    Maybe black pepper could help too? Sprinkle the same as the blood and bone. It will need to be repeated after rain. It was very succesfull for cats in a previous garden, who knows rabbits don’t like the sneezing effect either? Have heard of people sticking poisoned carrots into bigger rabbit holes and closing off that hole, so the rabbits find a surprise when they travel through their underground highways.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      I might price out pepper (I doubt that the rabbits will discriminate between black or white!) and see how it compares to blood and bone.

  2. Angela

    If you ever find an effective control we’d love to hear about it here in Puhoi. Can’t use b&b as our Cocker Spaniel loves it as much as chasing the blimmin’ pests. I can confirm that they still love our juvenile star jasmine plants after I removed the not so attractive fencing around them last week! So now that’s a winter project to make more wire protectors.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      THINLY spread, Angela! Mark managed to get the auratum lilies through with just the lightest dusting last spring. Our Dudley Dog is VERY food focused but when it is just the lightest of sprinkling, he does not appear to notice it.

  3. Jo

    I also suffer the onslaught of rabbits and find dried blood is more effective than blood and bone. Especially for crocuses- favourite delicacy of rabbits!

  4. jaspersdoggyworld

    We live between Wanganui and Hunteville and are also inundated with rabbits. They are as bold as brass out during the day and love to eat ringa ringa and dig up the lawn. We have three LGD (livestock guardian dogs) and they totally ignore the rabbits and the rabbits know it.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      We refer to our dogs as “estate dogs”, to give them the false illusion of social status (both are rescue dogs) but they regularly fail on their estate duties.

  5. Paddy Tobin

    What a pest! We are very fortunate here in our garden for, though the surrounding farmland has a healthy population of rabbits, there are none in our garden. For years we have had stoats (similar to weasels) living in our garden and, obviously, they take the very best care of the rabbit population for us.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      What well behaved rabbits! The issue is that when animals are taken out of their natural environment, they can behave very differently. Rabbits were introduced here for food and sport but very quickly reached plague levels. So they introduced stoats and ferrets I think (but not weasels) to try and control the rabbits but they found the local birds – especially the ground birds – much easier prey. Offshore islands were populated with pigs and goats so that shipwrecked sailors might find food to survive. Deer came as sport for the few gentry that made the journey, possums for the fur trade. Because those early settlers all felt that the pristine paradise they found could be improved upon with the right animals.

  6. Bev & Hilton Fothergill

    We have started feeding a couple of wild (not feral) cats as they have all but cleaned up our rabbit population. Our fox terrier is too old to catch them, but has never eaten rabbit or rat poison thank goodness, though we protect it from him.

  7. tonytomeo

    Rabbits cause a bit of damage here where they are native. I can not imagine what they would do if there were no predators to limit their population. The breed like rabbits.

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