Hawaii island group aims to reduce feral rabbit population

HILO — A Hawaii island group has launched an effort to reduce the number of feral rabbits, which the campaigners say are wreaking havoc on yards and burrowing under homes.

The Big Island Invasive Species Committee has asked for reports from residents who have seen the wild bunnies, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported Monday.

Committee Manager Springer Kaye said there are at least three but probably four established feral rabbit populations in Kona and Waimea.

“Escaped rabbits have been a problem for as long as people have been bringing rabbits into Hawaii, whether it’s for pets or for meat,” Kaye said.

The organization does not know exactly where the rabbits came from but said they are probably escaped pets or escaped from breeding hutches.

Hawaii has strict laws regarding rabbit containment because they can be a menace to farmers and gardeners.

Rabbits compete for forage, can decimate pastures and gardens and will eat grass down to a much shorter height than sheep or cattle, Kaye said.

Once in the wild, “rabbits do as rabbits do. They’re famous for their reproductive rate.”

The committee has photographed 24 rambling rabbits but estimates there are as many as 75. If the rabbits survive one or two generations in the wild, they will “dig in” and construct warrens, Kaye said.

One of the feral rabbit populations is in an area with more than a dozen landowners who are “really at their wits ends with these rabbits,” Kaye said.

The animals “turn their yards into dust bowls” and tunnel under houses, Kaye said.

The committee received a $6,600 grant from the Hawaii Invasive Species Council to work with landowners to control the rabbit population.

Cameras with infrared capabilities previously used to track deer will help improve the estimate of rabbit numbers and the grant will be used to contract hunters.

The organization plans to trap and then “dispatch” the animals with a pellet gun, Kaye said.

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