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Thousands of rabbits killed in New Zealand Easter hunt

Hunters in New Zealand have slaughtered almost 10,000 bunnies in an annual rabbit-shooting event in the country's southeast. Organizers say the Easter hunt aims to curb the ballooning rabbit population.

Bunnies may be a much-loved Easter symbol, but in parts of New Zealand's south island they're considered destructive pests. In one district, the problem has given rise to an unusual Easter tradition: a 24-hour bunny shooting spree.

More than 300 hunters descended on Central Otago for this year's "Great Easter Bunny Hunt," which kicked off on Easter Friday and ran through the night.

Twenty-seven teams from across New Zealand took part in the event, now in its 25th year, and together they killed a total of 9,680 rabbits, according to organizer Eugene Ferreira.

"It's a big fun event - hunters are out and awake all night," he told Reuters.

Ferreira says rabbits have caused major problems for farmers in the region, ravaging farmland and raiding carrot and cauliflower crops. The species was introduced to New Zealand by settlers in the 1800s and the population has grown rapidly ever since.

Run, rabbit, run!

The hunting team "Down South" shot 889 rabbits, beating other groups like "Hopper Stoppers," "Happy Hoppers" and "The Anti-pestos."

Down South member Chris Bell told the "Otego Daily Times" the team had improved their strategy over the six years they'd been competing in the event.

"The first time, we just grabbed guns and started shooting. Now we split into groups and come together and night," he said.

But the hunt also has its critics. Hans Kriek of animal rights organization SAFE told Reuters his group was "dead opposed" to the event and that only professional marksmen should carry out culls.

"It's inhumane," he said. "It's a bunch of amateurs just going out for a bit of a thrill kill."

A total of 297,359 rabbits have been killed over the event's history. The record for the largest ever Easter total stands at 30,000.