NZ rabbit history revealed

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DURING the late 1880s and throughout the 1900s, rabbits rampaged through the country. So prolific were these small, four-footed, furry beings, Bluff had a canning factory for their meat which was shipped overseas and there were also rabbit processing plants at Woodlands and Gore. Rabbit fur was also shipped back to England to be made into felt hats.
Those are some of the interesting stories Invercargill author and historian Lloyd Esler shares in his latest book, Rabbits & Possums In New Zealand, being launched on Saturday.
Rabbits were introduced to Southland at Sandy Point in the mid 1800s, as well as in Wyndham in 1867 and various other places, he said. By 1869 there were reports of plague proportions at New River (Waihopai) district when ‘‘whole crops were destroyed in a single night’’.
Mr Esler said he was motivated to write about the animals because ‘‘there was a bit of a gap in New Zealand history regarding rabbits and I wanted to produce a book on what was a huge important economic factor in New Zealand’s development’’.
As he notes in the book’s introduction: ‘‘For much of our history, man and rabbit have been both foes and friends; foes in the paddock and friends in the skinning shed. We have forgotten much of the story. This is it.’’
Full of stories, diagrams and images of rabbit-related memorabilia, the book covered ‘‘almost everything about rabbits’’, including acclimatisation societies, rabbit-proof fences intended to stop rabbits migrating, rabbit predators including stoats, ferrets and weasels, and other methods to control the mammal such as rabbiters, poison and disease.
Rabbits are not the only animal which feature in the book — hares, possums, quail, and kea bounty are also covered, as is a look back at the Southland fitch industry.
Mr Esler is launching his book at the Southland Museum & Art Gallery at 6.30pm, where he will also give a talk. A short drama and a re-enactment of the first Southland rabbit release will also feature.
Í Rabbits & Possums In New Zealand is available from selected book shops, the Southland Museum & Art Gallery, and from Lloyd Esler, 03 213 0404 or email esler@southnet.co.nz

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