Wellington (dpa) – New Zealand’s Great Easter Bunny Hunt, an annual cull of rabbits on the South Island, nearly claimed a human life Saturday when one hunter accidentally shot himself.
The 26-year-old, one of more than 400 hunters involved, lost his footing while shooting and sustained a self-inflicted wound to his hand, Cromwell police said.
The hunt is held each year in the dry interior of the Otago region where rabbits, introduced to the country in the 19th century and with no native predators to control their numbers, are considered a pest by local farmers.
About 10,000 rabbits are generally killed during the 24-hour event. The tally was highest in 2011, reaching about 23,000.
The Department of Conservation is paying a bounty for rabbit carcasses, with some to be used as bait to trap predators in a reserve for the endangered flightless kiwi.
Animal rights group SAFE was critical of the hunt, saying it had little to do with genuine control of the rabbits. Executive director Hans Kriek said the group had concerns that inexperienced hunters would cause a lot of suffering for the animals.
“To make this control of unwanted species as a fun day out sends a very, very wrong message to the population in general and kids in particular that this is something to be enjoyed,” he said.
“If they have to be controlled for whatever reason that needs to be done by professional people in the most humane way possible, and the Easter bunny hunt is neither.”