I read a shocking news item in my Turkish newspaper today: people in my home country, New Zealand, are slaughtering rabbits – and the government is doing nothing to stop them! According to the report, while the rest of the Christian world is celebrating the death and resurrection of its first martyr and founding prophet by hunting for chocolate rabbits and Easter eggs, hundreds of hunters in New Zealand’s South Island have been participating in a competition to see how many rabbits they could kill in 24 hours. The report goes on to say that 27 teams of twelve hunters each accounted for a total of 10,000 rabbits, with the winning team on its own bagging 889.
Well, of course I checked it out on the New Zealand news, and yes, it’s true. The Easter bunny hunt is an annual event in its 25th year – but this year the kill was down on the previous record of 23,000.
However, don’t think those 10,000 bodies will be wasted. Most will be buried, apparently, but some will be used as fertilizer, some processed as dog food, and a few will even end up on human dinner tables.
OK, now before you jump to hasty judgments, I want you to know that we New Zealanders are very kind-hearted people who love animals, and really just want what’s best for everyone. You may think of a rabbit or two as lovable, furry, floppy-eared, harmless, hippety-hoppety creatures that wouldn’t harm a fly, and add a dimension of cuteness to a pastoral landscape – and that’s exactly what our well-meaning but stupid ancestors from England thought when they imported them to Australia and New Zealand back in the 19th century.
Unfortunately, in a country with a more benign climate, and an absence of natural predators, the introduced bunnies bred like . . . well, rabbits. Before you knew it, there were quadrillions of the voracious little cotton-tails wiping out the pasture on which depended our young countries’ main industry – sheep and cattle farming.
Various methods of control were tried – especially the introduction of a nasty rabbit disease, myxomatosis. According to Wikipedia, ‘It was introduced into Australia in 1950. Affected rabbits develop skin tumors, and in some cases blindness, followed by fatigue and fever; they usually die within 14 days of contracting the disease. In Australia, it was devastatingly effective, reducing the estimated rabbit population from 600 million to 100 million in two years. However, the rabbits remaining alive were those least affected by the disease. Genetic resistance to myxomatosis was observed soon after the first release, and descendants of the survivors acquired partial immunity in the first two decades. Resistance has been increasing slowly since the 1970s; the disease now kills about 50% of infected rabbits. In an attempt to increase that rate, a second virus (rabbit calicivirus) was introduced into the rabbit population in 1996.’
So, you may actually think that shooting the little guys is preferable to letting them die a slow death over 14 days.
Anyway, what I want you to understand is that we New Zealanders and Australians are really very nice people. It’s just that we see rabbits differently from the way you do in the Old World. Please try to understand our position.
Well, I don’t expect any serious repercussions from that article in today’s ‘Hürriyet’. I’m not expecting to hear that hordes of Turkish animal rights protesters have been picketing the New Zealand Embassy in Ankara. Nor do I think the Turkish Ambassador in New Zealand will be organising his diplomatic colleagues in Wellington to engage in public protests. They’ll probably just put it down to another example of Western barbarity, and move on. Turks are like that.