CHAOSTOCOSMOS

Monday, 18 April 2005

Bad Business In Bunny Land

image It's all rabbits round here lately, but then it is Spring, so this is probably not surprising, but alas, this isn't only about cute, fluffy burrowers, because some *bad bunnies* have made people hopping mad.

The BBC themselves kindly point us in the direction of a wonderfully witty blog, which is poking fun at the BEEB site's special talent for (mis)use of stock photos after a "headless zombie rabbit" incident - where, apparently, the "same" (stock photo) bunny loses his head one day, then gets a parking ticket slapped on his hutch the next.

(I take comfort in the fact that if the BBC can call those items news, what I have to offer MAY not be so mind-numbingly dull after all!)

But that it would scare all the little kiddies (not to mention the big kiddy whose job it was to dispose of the remains), last week I could have provided a "model" for the perfect graphic illustration for the former of the above stories, courtesy of cats Khan and Betty.

One I, sadly, didn't manage liberate from them in time.

Then this morning, I discovered Balu and Betty growling at each other over another specimen out in the utility room. This discovery was a little accidental, so Balu picked up the rabbit and ran through the house and out the front door. I managed to follow and catch up with him, despite an obstacle course of furniture, rocks and vines.

For some reason, I can't run under everything like they can!

But, upon grabbing the offending cat by the neck, he sure let go of the rabbit - who foolishly, ran straight towards Betty. I couldn't get there in time and, even if I had, you'd have more chance getting a side of beef away from a full-grown lion than of getting near her.

My vet calls her "la pantera" (the panther) and that she is!

I did try, but unfortunately this was the wrong move. She had to make a quick decision, which resulted in me being a mere yard away and, unfortunately, looking straight at the bloodthirsty scene when she went in for the kill. All I can say is, at least it was swift.

So, the current score appears to be: Cats 2 - Human 2

(Not counting the ones I don't know about, of course.)

Cats are killers. I accept that. And I am more than happy that they are able to live "normal cat" lives, but it still takes a bit of getting used to the things one has to deal with in the country.

I tell ya, you get a very strong stomach after a few years of er, "country living with pets". Although I have to admit that I am taking the ostrich approach to *dealing with* the aftermath of today's episode. I've cowardly come indoors and closed all the doors and windows to keep the cats out until the "job is done".

On the other hand, I probably should just accept that my cats are providing a useful service, because the rabbit population here has been escalating out of all proportion over the last few years.

Indeed, just this morning while I was walking the vine terraces with the dog (accompanied by two cats, naturally), we stopped and chatted with the workers tending the vines. It seems that even the ingenious water trick (containers under the vines) hasn't prevented the numerous rabbits from eating the newly forming fruit this year, destroying both crop and livelihood.

Naturally, the man is hopping mad (sorry, irrisistable pun), saying *they* should do something to completely wipe out the rabbit populations in cultivated areas.

I agree, something needs doing, but I doubt that would be the right solution.

The chance of getting all of the rabbits has to be slim and those remaining would merely reproduce at a faster rate to refill the territory available. The hunting season in August - November will cull them and, it is probably better to continue with that rhythm. (Much as I personally dislike the idea of hunting, I accept it is a better solution than some alternatives - such as traps or poisons - both of which would also present greater risks for other animals.)

Last year there seemed to be so many rabbits, we were almost tripping over them every time we went out walking. In fact, one morning, Kitty was with us and there she was walking along (possibly daydreaming), when she suddenly came nose to nose with a grown rabbit. Both took a moment's pause, taken aback, then went on their respective ways.

This we hadn't seen before and it led me to start wondering why.

Recently, I discovered the answer. Tourists!

If they call it tourist season, why can't we shoot 'em?

Yes, it's an ironic twist of fate, but, as usual, man is the author of his own folly. It also shows you, in one small cycle, how everything in nature is connected and why balances must be maintained.

What worries me even more is that man (in his infinite wisdom) may well take to more environmentally damaging *remedies* (like poisons) in order to *cure* the environmental damage he has already done.

It seems that the growing numbers of tourists visiting areas near where birds of prey (buzzards & osprey) nest are disturbing the peace of said birds, so they are not breeding in sufficient numbers to cope with the quantity of rabbits that are their normal prey.

Hence, the rabbits are multiplying at the rate rabbits do, unhindered.

We do frequently see two to three pairs of these birds hovering over the valley. And, as beautiful as they are, they did (in my ignorance) bother me a bit that they may not be able to tell the difference between a wild bunny and one of my pet cats. I am now more apt to accept that as a normal risk and hope that the birds do their job.

(Well, better that than losing them all to a poison incident, not to mention the long-term effects of putting chemicals on the land.)

What really needs to be done is to control tourism more closely and create more nature reserves that they are not permitted to enter, restoring the balance of nature so that the birds can reproduce, catch more rabbits and put money back into farmers' pockets.

These islands rely on tourism for their main economy, but, in many cases, this is not just at the cost of the environment, but creates a "robbing Peter to pay Paul" scenario, where those in tourism prosper at the expense of their kinsmen in local agriculture.

Both are important. It would never be good business to have all our eggs in one basket and this just isn't a sustainable option. These same tourists are disturbing the peace of the whales and dolphins that they go to view on boat safaris and they create daily traffic jams on our mountain roads through precious pine and "laurasilva" forest. And I just can't help wondering what they will come to look at, once all of this beautiful nature has been totally destroyed for their pleasure.

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