The rabbits damaging Taihape Cemetery with their burrowing will "glow in the dark" when contractors use thermal imaging equipment to shoot them at night.

Over the last two months rabbits have bred up at the historic cemetery, a Rangitīkei District Council spokeswoman said. They have been digging into lawns, graves and under headstones, especially in the old part of the cemetery.

Graves there date back to the 1880s and are fragile, and war veterans are buried in rows of white crosses. The cemetery is a popular place for people to walk through and is quite busy.

The Rangitīkei District Council has hired Garry Reid, from Stratford-based Wild Animal Control, to reduce rabbit numbers. He's likely to do the work during January 17 and 18.

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Nearby residents are getting letters to inform them and signs will also be put up.

People have been distressed at the rabbits damaging their relatives' graves.

Joyce Hardwidge saw 17 rabbits in one little spot when she visited her husband's grave recently. She said having rabbits digging there was "pretty rude, pretty cruel, pretty nasty. We put people there to rest, not to be dug up."

Reid has controlled rabbits in Otago, where they can reach plague proportions. It's not that bad at Taihape, but he said there were "quite a few".

A virus released to kill rabbits several months ago hasn't been a great success. It may kick in soon, because it needs flies to spread it and their numbers are increasing.

In the meantime Reid plans to kill rabbits at the cemetery by shooting them and fumigating their burrows.

Shooting will be done at night, using .22 guns with silencers. The shooters will carry both handheld and weapon-mounted thermal imaging equipment.

"Even if it's pitch black, [the rabbits] literally glow in the dark."

Contractors will also place two or three small pellets of a substance into each burrow, then activate them with water and block up the holes. The pellets emit a gas that is heavier than air and will kill the rabbits underground.