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.
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.
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.
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.
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.