Private citizens eager to take the law into their own hands over Helsinki’s escalating rabbit problem
Since last autumn, 2,000 rabbits have been culled legally in the Finnish capital
By Ann-Mari Huhtanen
Helsinki’s rabbit wild situation has reached the point where the little furry creatures are now being hunted by any means necessary, especially in residential districts with gardens to protect.
According to head gardener Marko Pesu of the University of Helsinki's botanical gardens, also in the city's allotment gardens some rather dubious rabbit-elimination methods have been introduced.
The wild rabbit are having their numbers forcibly reduced by using hayforks, dungforks, homemade traps, and cats, Pesu lists.
Hunting for the city rabbits without an appropriate shooting licence is illegal, however.
Also the rabbit-hunting season has been defined in the law. The hunting season begins in September continues until the end of February.
In the online debates regarding the city rabbits, robust measures are called for to solve the problem.
“I recommend rabbit patrols with PCP (pre-charged pneumatic) airguns formed by those who are into the hobby. Power and accuracy quite sufficient, and yet, relatively safe for the [non-rabbit] environment”, suggests one pseudonym-writer on the web site of the green ideology tabloid Vihreä lanka (“Green Thread”).
“I would poison the rabbits. Perhaps a couple of other animals may die in the process, but so what?” proposes Veronmaksaja (“Tax Payer"), writing on the HS.fi boards, as his solution to the rabbit problem.
Legally nearly two thousand rabbits have been caught and shot in Helsinki since last autumn. Responsible for the onslaught are the city’s anonymous hunters and head gardener Pesu, who has been given an exceptional permit to shoot rabbits and hares from his garden, granted by the Uusimaa Game Management District.
Already for a few years now, Pesu has used his small-bore rifle to keep in check the rabbit population of the botanical gardens.
This year Pesu has already bumped off 120 rabbits.
The dead rabbits are handed over to the Finnish Museum of Natural History for research purposes.
“Oh. Apart from the three rabbits, that is, that ended up in chef de cuisine Hans Välimäki’s stewpan. They were transformed into a delicious Easter meal prepared for the benefit of a newspaper article”, Pesu laughs.
In the spring and summer, however, Pesu does not plan on liquidating any rabbits.
When there is enough food the rabbits do not necessarily have to go around ravishing his saplings.
“I will start again around the late-summer crayfish festival fest time, when the summer’s litters in turn will start to multiply into a new generation”, Pesu explains.
The rabbits’ undertakings get on many people’s nerves, but in Pesu’s opinion it is not advisable to take the law into one’s own hands.
The tried and tested methods are still the best ones. It pays to protect the plants with chicken wire and to inspect the yard regularly.
“Your city rabbit is not a complete outlaw”, Pesu points out.
The wild rabbits are not just Helsinki’s problem. Since March, more than 200 sightings have been reported in the neighbouring city of Espoo as well.
According to Hannu Luoto, the rabbits enter into Espoo especially through the area around the commuter railway line in Mäkkylä.
Luoto works at the University of Helsinki in a working group that verifies the authenticity of rabbit sightings. “It seems that the rabbits are proceeding deeper into Espoo at a speed of 200 to 300 metres per day.”
In Vantaa, only a couple of rabbit sightings have been reported near the Helsinki border in the districts of Kartanokoski, Ylästö, and Tikkurila.
“A few private house owners have voiced their concerns, but on the city scale the rabbits are not yet a problem in Vantaa”, says chief environmental planner Jaakko Vähämäki.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 8.5.2009
Previously in HS International Edition:
Run, rabbit, run (16.1.2007)
Helsinki´s wild rabbits munch holes in Olympic Stadium football nets (9.9.2008)
Helsinki to begin culling wild rabbit population (30.1.2008)
ANN-MARI HUHTANEN / Helsingin Sanomat