This Easter when I mentioned to friends that I was going to photograph the Great Easter Bunny Hunt in Alexandra they all responded the same way – “aww, so cute”. I think they assumed that I’d be photographing kids racing around a park picking out chocolate eggs from the bushes. That couldn’t be further from what I was did this Easter.
Writer Rebekah White and I joined 324 hunters who descended upon Central Otago in an effort to make a dent on the rabbit infestation in the surrounding dry and pockmarked hills.
Ray Moffat and the Southern Hopper Stoppers were our guides for the 24 hours of the hunt starting on Good Friday and ending the next day with each team’s catch laid out in the centre of Alexandra. This is an annual get together for the Southern Hopper Stoppers and the team is made up of family and friends who relish their spot on the team and the camaraderie of the annual competition. There is also a fierce inter-team competition and each truck wants to shoot enough rabbits to beat Ray’s and pocket the $100 that Ray has on the line (for another year it stays in Ray’s wallet).
The Southern Hopper Stopper team is made up of drivers, shooters, spotters, dogs (one is spray-painted pink to avoid being mistaken for a rabbit in the tussock covered landscape), and the support crew back at the wool shed. Throughout the night Cheryl and the rest of the support team make cheese rolls and other comfort food, brew tea and give pep talks to get the crew through the night.
By 4am I was wrapped up in a onesy snow suit and at least four other layers of clothing and learn that it is darn hard to photograph on a pitch black night, on no sleep, with no circulation in my hands while barrelling across bumpy farmland chasing ill-fated rabbits with a spotlight. My stamina was nothing compared to the Southern Hopper Stoppers who are determined to get their haul in over 800 rabbits. Sleep wasn’t on the agenda for anyone.
As part of the competition over 10,000 rabbits were shot and the Southern Hopper Stoppers claimed second place with a total of 755.
A huge thanks to Dave Ramsay from the Alexandra Lions Club for making sure we were well looked after on the day and to Ray and all of the Southern Hopper Stopper team who made us a welcome addition to the team – kept us well fed, entertained, educated and warm!
Check out the latest issue of New Zealand Geographic for Rebekah’s great story or see it online at https://www.nzgeo.com/stories/bunny-hunt/