By Dave Goosselink
It's the Year of the Rabbit, and the animals are certainly running rampant in Central Otago.
Hundreds of hunters were keen to stop them in their tracks at this weekend's Easter Bunny Hunt.
Teams were dispatched to rural blocks across the region, answering the SOS call from farmers.
“They appreciate the numbers being reduced I'm sure. They've just got to give us a barn somewhere nice to sleep,” says Friday Mates team member Rod Hall.
Fourty-seven teams of trigger-happy shooters worked through the night to bag as many rabbits as possible.
Organisers say the rabbit problem here is the worst it's been in over a decade.
“Rabbits breed like rabbits, and there's plenty of them out there. And they're getting immune as well to the Calcivirus, so yeah there's quite a few and they're a real pest here for the farmers,” says organiser Sunil Unka.
Animal welfare campaigners are hopping mad about the annual charity hunt, which has claimed almost a quarter of a million rabbits in the last 20 years.
But hunters aren't fooled by their warm and fluffy image.
“Down here they aren't as cute and cuddly as they possibly are in Auckland. Down here they pose a risk to the environment,” says Warkworth Eco Warriors team member Dave Gaffen.
And while many consider a rabbit's foot to be lucky, it certainly wasn't for around 23,000 of them this weekend.
“With the rabbits, we use their tails to make rabbit tail coats, and we use their meat to turn into dog tucker,” says Marauding Kiwis member Michael Butler.
This year a top chef was on hand to prove that rabbit meat can also be gourmet.
“It's not that available and quite expensive which is really weird. I mean it's a pest and like you just can't seem to get your hands on it, and it's expensive. Australia you use a lot and it's really good,” says Riverstone Kitchen chef Bevan Smith.
The winning team, Beige Brigade Wolfpack, snared over 1600 rabbits in the 24 hours.
Other hunters going home with tales to tell, safe in the knowledge there are plenty of bouncing bunnies left for next year.