How to read rabbit sign: hear it from an expert

24 June 2019

Jack Powell rabbit country x650

There’s nothing like a lifetime’s field observation to learn how to read animal sign. We’ve added audio clips of long-time rabbiter, the late Jack Powell, describing some of the rabbit sign he would look for when out in the field.

Jack knew how to read the landscape for signs of pest animals and he understood their behaviour.

In the following audio clip he describes how he would gauge rabbit populations over large areas of rabbit-prone country in the South Island.


Listen to Jack Powell, courtesy New Zealand Biosecurity Institute. 

Jack was highly respected because of his life-long field experience. He started rabbiting in the 1930s as a schoolboy, when he earned good money selling rabbit skins. At first he used a fox terrier and ferrets to detect and catch the rabbits; then saved enough to buy traps. He carried on working in animal pest control most of his working life, with the former rabbit boards in the 1950s and 1960s and then the Agricultural Pest Destruction Council.

You can also hear Jack describe the differences in rabbit droppings between wetter North Island areas and drier South Island areas and the way doe (female) rabbits can leave tell-tale traces of fur when they make nests for their young.  Look under the droppings and the body covering (Other Clues) sections on our rabbit page.

Jack worked mainly in Otago, where rabbits were a particular problem but in the last ten years of his career, he became a National Field Officer. In that role he dealt with pest control all over the country. He played a big role in surveying New Zealand’s animal pests in the 1970s and helped set up New Zealand’s first pest animal control training programme.

The three audio excerpts were sourced from the New Zealand Biosecurity Institute (NZBI) Oral History Project. Thanks to NZBI for allowing us to reproduce them.

Photograph: Jack Powell (left) when interviewed in 2013, and an example of typical rabbit country.