Children killing bunnies during Easter: The hypocrisy of the Great New Zealand Easter Bunny Hunt
What does the future hold for our children and grandchildren? Will we continue to teach them to live as hypocrites,
dominating and killing other species?
Easter is as good a time as any to pause and think of such things.
In the Christian tradition Easter is symbolic of new life and resurrection. The Easter bunny is a well known cute and
fluffy character who delivers baskets of chocolate eggs to children. This much we know to be true.
Just how this tradition evolved into the killing of thousands upon thousands of South Island rabbits over the Easter
weekend in the expanded Great Easter Bunny Hunt
is beyond my comprehension.
Twenty-five teams of 12 people (children included) set out during the long weekend to kill as many rabbits as possible.
The NZ Herald headline said ‘Great Easter Bunny Hunt takes out almost 12,000 rabbits’
. This killing fest and the media language associated with it is quite depraved.
As well as rabbits they shot 555 other animals including stoats, possums, and turkeys. They then brought their kill to
Dunstan Equestrian Centre to tally it up.
Apparently, the winning team was called Overkill with a total of 1185 rabbits.
The whole event is an overkill if you ask me. Photos of the event include smiling children and rows upon rows of rabbit
corpses lying motionless on the ground. Convenor Dave Ramsey has been quoted in The Guardian
saying, “a lot of kids participate in our event”. Hold on – children involved in ‘taking out’ bunnies over Easter?
Children celebrating their kill?
I am shaking my head in disbelief, but then New Zealand is well known for its cavalier attitude toward involving
children in killing animals. Even schools get involved, running fundraisers which involve hunting possums and other
animals including turkeys, magpies, goats, pigs, rabbits, and stoats. In 2017 Drury school ran a possum hunt that involved children drowning baby joeys in buckets of water.
It was a death fest of magnificent and dreadful proportions.
University of Colorado ecology and biology professor Marc Bekoff has repeatedly spoken out against the culture of violence in New Zealand
in which children are encouraged to kill ‘pests’.
I agree with Professor Bekoff. Children should never be involved in killing animals, but we’ll return to that soon. For
now I want to focus on the hypocrisy of the hunt.
The rationale of the hunt is reasonably clear. Rabbits are considered an introduced pest in New Zealand and are said to
threaten agriculture and New Zealand’s native biodiversity. The Department of Conservation (DOC)
says that the main issue with rabbits is that they are considered an ‘agricultural pest’. They compete with livestock
for pasture. They dig holes in the dusty ground and damage erosion prone soils.
To be fair, agriculture and biodiversity don’t really belong in the same sentence.
Agriculture in New Zealand is the first culprit when it comes to threats to New Zealand’s native biodiversity. For
example, the clearing of native forests and conversion to pasture for agriculture has destroyed the home of native and
endemic species. In 2010 figures from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) put native forest cover in New Zealand
at just 30%. This has led to mass biodiversity losses in New Zealand.
Prior to human settlement in New Zealand 80 % of the country was covered in forest. Now 50% is covered in farmland.
Where once immense and ancient tall forests predominated, now grass grows. Iconic tress such as the magnificent and
lofty kauri grew upright and strong, providing homes for the many endemic bird and insect species that lived here. Now
the pasture provides homes for cows, sheep, and bunnies.
Between 1840 and 2000 some 8 million hectares of New Zealand native forest was cleared to make room for pastoral farms,
European settlements, and the timber trade. Wetlands were also drained. The dense forest cover of pre-European times and
the deafening birdsong has been replaced by clover and cows.
Now dairy farming predominates the agricultural scene. In 2019 Ministry for the Environment reported that in the last
three decades there has been intensification of farming. This includes less sheep and more cows; more animals per
hectare; more fertilizer and more irrigated land. Dairy farming is a particularly dirty industry and causes the
degradation of biodiversity, our waterways, and the marine environment.
But let’s ignore that and shoot rabbits with a smile. Take that, Easter Bunny.
Why glorify the kill so much? What is with the attitude? Rabbits were purposefully introduced by whalers in in the South
Island during the 1820s to the 1830s. They didn’t ask to come here.
When it comes to humans, killing is something we excel at. We kill forests and whales and bunnies. We kill pangolins and
release sophisticated and mutating viruses into the world. Our attempts to dominate and control the natural world is
unfortunate in the extreme. Forget the bunnies eating our farmland. Massive collapse of natural ecosystems and
biodiversity loss worldwide has much deeper roots than this.
We have more important things to work on, like getting rid of dairy farming, and replacing it with more sustainable
The hypocrisy is alarming when it is coupled with the gamification and glorification of killing the rabbit who is now
considered a ‘pest’. Of course, we cannot go back and change the actions of our forebears and ship the bunnies back to
where they came from. But to be cheerful about shooting rabbits that we brought here ourselves is the wrong attitude.
And then to use Easter as an excuse to kill thousands of them just seems ghoulish and creepy. Involving children just
takes it up a whole new level.
We shouldn’t be arming children with guns and encouraging them to wage war on animals (even if it is couched in the
language of conservation). There are so many other things children can be doing to help the Earth – like planting trees
and gardens, learning about how to reduce their consumption, and eating a plant-based diet. We need to embrace an
attitude of eating mindfully and walking peacefully with the other animals with whom we share the planet.
Our children are inheriting what is left of the world we have messed up. Our attitude toward other species and the way
we produce from the Earth needs to change if our children are going to inherit anything at all.