By SCOTT MacLEOD

Soldiers and military aircrew kill chickens, rabbits and goats while learning to survive behind enemy lines, official papers show.

Since January last year at least 22 rabbits, 17 chickens and two goats have died in training programmes run by the Army and Air Force.

The Air Force training included luring, trapping and cooking to help aircrew survive crashes in hostile territory.

The Army's combat survival course taught soldiers to slaughter small game, check offal for diseases and cook with improvised ovens.

Some of the Army training would be aimed at Special Air Service troops, who often sneak behind enemy lines.

A man who was shown how to kill a rabbit by an SAS soldier in the Coromandel said the idea was to use as many parts of the animal as possible.

The soldier smacked the rabbit's head against a tree, rather than risk damaging its skin with a knife.

"In an instant, no mucking around, it was dead."

The soldier made a little earth-oven in a bank that was designed to be almost smokeless, cooked the meat and pulled the skin inside-out to use as a glove.

The witness, who would not be named, said the rabbit "was a little white and brown one, I remember that quite clearly".

The SAS is highly secretive and has denied some rumours about its training methods. In a rare interview in September 1998, its former leader, Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Martin, said "we don't strangle chickens and drink their blood".

Defence Minister Mark Burton said all the animals were killed humanely. Knowing how to prepare small game was an "important part of survival training".

The papers, obtained under the Official Information Act, show all purchases of live animals and all instances in which animals were killed in the past 23 months.

They show the Army killed five sick or injured Kaimanawa horses during that time and that Air Force aircraft hit at least 49 birds.

Mr Burton said it was possible that other animals were killed accidentally during training.

The Army bought all its animals in February last year and in February this year, which suggests its training is done annually.

The Air Force bought animals in January, May and July of last year and this year and two rabbits in October this year.

The services paid $14 for each rabbit, but the Army got a cheaper deal on its chickens - $5 to the Air Force's $6. The Air Force paid $45 for each of its two goats, which were bought in May.

The Navy said it killed nothing.

Live animal purchases

Air Force

Jan 2002: 3 rabbits

May 2002: 2 rabbits

July 2002: 2 rabbits

Jan 2003: 6 chickens

May 2003: 2 goats

July 2003: 3 rabbits

Oct 2003: 2 rabbits

Army

Feb 2002: 5 rabbits, 6 chickens
Feb 2003: 5 rabbits, 5 chickens

* goats $45 each, rabbits $14, chickens $5-$6