The following editorial is from the August Edition of the Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Project Newsletter, produced by Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service
In the nine months since the last rabbit was found and dispatched on Macquarie Island, there’s been no let-up in the hunting teams in efforts to ensure that any remaining rabbits are removed from the island.
A total of 13 rabbits have been found and killed since aerial baiting finished in July 2011. The last rabbit killed was in November 2011 and project manager Keith Springer is confident that rabbit numbers are now extremely low, with a ‘best guess’ estimate that there may be fewer than five rabbits remaining on the island.
A fresh team of hunters joined the effort in April 2011 with four of the 2011/12 team selected to stay on with the project. Peter Kirkman is this year’s eradication team leader after joining the project last year as assistant team leader under Peter Preston. Dana Boyte remains, but has changed roles from hunter to dog handler. Jane Tansell has also taken on extra duties as assistant team leader for the dog handlers. Jack Bauer continues as a dog handler. The eradication team includes six hunters and six dog handlers.
The team’s first month on the island was taken up with familiarisation and training in recognising rabbit signs such as grazing, scratchings and droppings and in hunting techniques including trapping, fumigating burrows and shooting. The dog handlers were paired with the dogs in an effort to find the best fit of skills and personalities. Each of the dogs has different skills; some are good on rock stacks, some for ranging at a distance from their handler, and some are best for close work in the thick tussocks. The island is divided into six hunting blocks, with dog handlers and hunters tackling one block for a four-week period. Each block has two huts and the teams roam between the huts, returning to the island’s station at the end of the month’s field work for four days of catching up on emails, phoning home to loved ones, socialising and resting.
Peter downloads all of the GPS units carried by the hunters and coordinates the combined tracks onto a map. In June 2012, they covered 2233 kilometres in their search for rabbits and a map produced of their patrols since August 2011 shows that only the steepest slopes and lakes and tarns are exempt from their attention. Since August 2011, the hunting team has clocked up an incredible 33,412 kilometres in their search for those rabbits that found the bait unappetising and survived. Of course as time goes on, the job gets much harder with so few rabbits remaining. Although the winter weather is very hard on both dogs and people, it has its advantages for locating rabbits: a light cover of snow highlights any rabbit tracks or droppings, and the shorter days and long nights are ideal for spotlighting.