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The verminator active in Marlborough

The verminator active in Marlborough
 In 1997 farmers hoped the rabbit calicivirus disease would be the silver bullet in their battle against rabbits. More than a decade on, immunity to the disease has forced the resumption of aerial poison drops in the Upper Awatere Valley, reports The Marlborough Express. Max Nelson stands on William's Saddle with his .22 calibre rifle. Surrounding him is the sparse, rugged high country of both Muller and Middlehurst Stations. Parked behind him is his flat-deck red Ford Courier ute. It's kitted out with night shooting racks and gun cartridges. Other tools for combating rabbits clutter the cab. "That area there was poisoned four months ago," he says, pointing west at a large section of the countryside known as the Tone. "That's looking pretty damn good." Despite being pitted with holes from past rabbit encounters the grass looks to be rejuvenating. In contrast, he points out William's Basin in the east, which hasn't seen poison since the arrival of rabbit calicivirus disease (RCD)."Over there see how it's quite brown looking and all bare and chewed off? See their little tracks? That's rabbit sign. I can see it from miles away." It's due to be poisoned this winter, he says. Max has been involved in the war on rabbits as a district council inspector and animal controller for 43 years. He witnessed farmers' frustrations when night counts revealed more than 200 rabbits per kilometre travelled in some areas. He also witnessed the relief RCD brought when it was released in 1997 and counts dropped as low as one rabbit for every 10 kilometres travelled. The effectiveness of the virus meant work for many involved in rabbit control programmes in the area dried up and with it went much of their knowledge of rabbit management. Now, a little more than 10 years on, rabbits are making a comeback with up to 70 per cent returning with an immunity to the virus.

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