Some people embrace the religious significance of Easter. Many enjoy the time off work and the chance to eat loads of chocolate. Others take part in a competition to kill as many rabbits as possible. Animal expert Sally Hibbard questions the 24th Annual Great Easter Bunny Hunt.

The Great Easter Bunny Hunt is an annual event for Central Otago, organised by the Alexandra Lions Club. Now in its 24th year, the Easter cull was hatched as a way to help out farmers in the region suffering the dire effects of rabbit damage to farmland.

Paddocks can be rendered useless by burrowing and they also compete with livestock for pasture. As well as their economic impact, rabbits are an ecological pest, consuming native plants and providing a year round food source for predators threatening our native animals.

An unmistakable air of fun surrounds the Easter Bunny Hunt, with families and teams decked out in their finest camo gear ready to take on the bunnies. There's the odd individual festooned with ammo, looking like they've just walked of the set of Rambo, making you wonder exactly who the biggest bunny of the event is.

There were 27 teams from around the country taking part in this year's Bunny Hunt, including the "Blasted Bunnies" and the "Southern Hopper Stoppers".

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Following the event, the rabbit corpses were laid out for counting, creating a grisly spectacle for the uninitiated. This year's total was just shy of 8500, a few more than last year but nothing like the days when 20,000 bunny bodies where on show. Money raised from the event is donated to charity.

Pest Control or Killing Spree?

What caught my interest at the event was the obvious disappointment at not being able to bag more bunnies. Surely the whole point of the exercise is to reduce rabbit numbers and subsequent damage to valuable farmland. A diminishing population would then indicate a successful outcome, unless it's just about the act of killing.

In principle, the humane removal of pests isn't something I have a problem with, however I don't get the killing of animals for "fun".

Recreational hunters will undoubtedly get their camo panties in a bunch over my comments, as hunting is an ingrained part of the Kiwi lifestyle for many.

SAFE (Save Animals from Exploitation) has expressed concern over the Bunny Hunt, believing it may incite animal cruelty. The "demonisation" of pests like rabbits and possums can generate a perception that, due to the indisputable damage these animals cause, they are not deserving of welfare considerations.

Swerving to hit a possum on the road and leaving it injured to die a painful death is not effective pest control. It is animal cruelty. I recently met a teenager who proudly told me he had shot six possums with an air rifle, "but only killed two".

When young people are participating in the killing of animals there needs to be some serious context around it. I may not agree with the sport itself, but I don't believe adult hunters generally aspire to animal cruelty. Children however, are easily caught up in the carnival atmosphere of events such as the Great Easter Bunny Hunt and can lose sight of important aspects like humane killing, and the environmental goal that is meant to drive the event.

I'm all for humane pest control, but I just can't get on board with the mass killing of any animal forming the basis of "family fun".

What are your thoughts on The Great Easter Bunny Hunt?