Rabbit numbers have grown rapidly at Western Springs Lakeside Park, prompting Auckland Council staff to look at how to best manage the problem.
Visitors to the park would have noticed the increased population of rabbits at morning and early evening time over the last month.
While the rabbits are cute and popular with children, as numbers grow they pose an ecological threat to Western Springs and its wildlife, and a recreational risk from people tripping over burrows.
“The boom in rabbit numbers may draw larger predators to the park, such as cats, who will prey on the rabbits and the birds living around the lake,” says David Stejskal, a contract coordinator for the council.
“We have a responsibility to look after recreational needs, and the environment, and ensuring there is an ecological balance is part of that.
“Rabbits also eat grass and native plants – a key source of food for the park’s bird population – and in some areas are known to cause substantial damage to park grounds as a result of burrowing,” David says.
Western Springs is well-known for supporting a range of bird species, including the native tui, pukeko and fantail, and is a popular destination for picnicking, walking and jogging.
“The impact from rabbits is now at a stage that more detailed consideration needs to be given to their management, as the damage they are doing to the park could cost ratepayers significantly in the long term. Grassing over burrowed holes, only to find more holes cropping up, costs money and is not a long-term solution.”
Pest management options are being investigated by council staff. This will look at how best to control the rabbit population to a more manageable size, and a timeframe for any action. Staff are also assessing rabbit densities within the park, with more information expected by the end of January 2016.
“Pest management is carried out in public areas across Auckland, including maunga (mountains), sports parks and regional parks, so this is part of our everyday job,” David says.
“We take into account the size, location and use of a park, and the effectiveness of the of tools available for the pest that is being controlled as main factors when developing a pest management plan.
“There are a number of different methods for controlling rabbits, including shooting, biological control agents, fumigation and the use of toxic baits. All methods will be considered and we might find that more than one method is required.”
Any pest control carried out that impacts on use of the area will be conveyed to the public through appropriate means, such as information and warning signs consistent with council policy and national guidelines.