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Under The Microscope

PUBLIC ATTITUDES TO RABBIT CALICIVIRUS DISEASE IN NEW ZEALAND, Landcare Research Science Series No. 20, Edited by Roger Wilkinson and Gerard Fitzgerald; Manaaki Whenua Press, 1998; 56 pp; $20.00

Reviewed by Carol Stewart

This report is the 20th and most recent volume of Landcare's Research Science Series. According to the blurb on the Manaaki Whenua Press website, it's intended to be useful to policy makers, council staff, farmers, researchers and "anyone involved in the public debate around rabbits and rabbit control".

From the perspective of the general reader, I found it to be a fascinating little glimpse into our national psyche. We harbour mixed feelings towards the bunny. Many people consider them cute and cuddly little creatures; cultural images such as the Easter Bunny, Bunnykins plates and Peter Rabbit probably have quite a lot to answer for. There's also widespread acceptance of the view that they're a serious ecological menace and undermine farm productivity.

The study set out to investigate public attitudes towards rabbits, towards various methods of rabbit control such as trapping, poisoning and RCD, and towards the acceptability of a planned release of RCD. All kinds of interesting insights emerge. If you're a young urban woman, you're much more likely to incline towards the "cute and furry" view of rabbits; those most likely to consider rabbits an ecological menace are older rural men, and members of conservation and environmental organisations.

When it comes to rabbit control methods, we're uncomfortable with the use of poisons such as 1080, and regard shooting as the least risky and most acceptable option overall, despite entertaining a few doubts about its cost and effectiveness.

And as for RCD? Despite widespread coverage in the media, which ensured that most of us have heard of it, our level of knowledge about this rabbit-specific virus is very sketchy. We're more or less evenly divided between those who support its introduction, those who are opposed, and those with a conditional position which may presumably swing either way.

This study was conducted back in 1996, about a year before the illicit release of RCD, and it will be interesting to see if this event has swayed our views on RCD one way or the other.

Carol Stewart is currently on leave from the School of Marine and Environmental Science at Auckland University and has an interest in conservation issues.