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Enderby Island Rabbits

A Rare Breeds Society Rescue Project

Map of New Zealand showing the position of Enderby Island in the Auckland Islands group
Enderby Island is one of the Auckland Islands

      Enderby Island is the northernmost island of a Subantarctic group known as the Auckland Islands which lie some 320 kilometres south of New Zealand. They were discovered in 1806 and soon received visits from sealing parties with whalers following not long after.   As a result of these visits there were a number of shipwrecks on the Auckland Islands, and pigs, goats, sheep and rabbits were released on the various islands to provide food for shipwrecked sailors. (See also » Enderby Island Cattle and » Auckland Island Pigs.)

      The rabbits were released onto Enderby Island by the Victoria Society of Australia early in October 1865 by HMCS Victoria. Here, their descendants were to remain in isolation for almost 130 years.

Rabbits on Enderby Island
Rabbits on Enderby Island, 1992
(Photo by Wayne Costello, DOC)

      In the late 1980s the New Zealand Department of Conservation decided that the Auckland Islands – including Enderby – should be allowed to revert to their natural state. This was to involve the ultimate destruction – or removal – of all introduced mammals.

      The Canterbury Section of the Rare Breeds Conservation Society of New Zealand set up a project to rescue a breeding group of the rabbits before they were all destroyed.

      In September 1992 Michael Willis and Dave Matheson travelled to Enderby Island, accompanied by a Department of Conservation party, to recover up to fifty animals. Eventually, after five days on the Island, forty-nine rabbits were caught using various methods. Most were trapped in the 'vee' of two wing nets after they had been enticed in with carrots. Those that were captured tamed very easily and adapted quickly to a diet of carrots, hay and pellets. (It was during this trip that Michael Willis and Dave Matheson spotted the hoofprints of the only two surviving Enderby Island cattle – see » Enderby Island Cattle.)

Enderby Island rabbits (Photo by Sitereh Schouten)
Enderby Island rabbits
(Photo by Sitereh Schouten)

      On return to New Zealand the rabbits were initially quarantined on Somes Island in Wellington Harbour – 49 going into quarantine and 52 coming out. They were then apportioned out to volunteer caregivers in breeding groups, while remaining the property of the Rare Breeds Conservation Society.

      Breeding programmes for this rare variety of rabbit have not always been as successful as might have been hoped. Nevertheless, over the last few years the Rare Breeds Society has released a certain number of animals into private ownership. As a result of this, Enderby Island rabbits are now available for purchase by rabbit enthusiasts, and some have been exported to North America.

      As a breed, they are still regarded as endangered.

   See also:
» Enderby Island Rabbits – breed page
» The Enderby Island Rabbit Story – by Bob Whitman
» Rare Breeds Society Rescue Projects
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