Saturday, March 20, 2010


• A good knife is essential. Make sure your knife is clean and sharp before carefully packing it away with your hunting gear.
• Specialized gutting knives are good for inexperienced hunters as they reduce the risk of puncturing the gut [Editor’s Note: or severing the tendons in your fingers!].
• Take a clean carcass bag or cheese cloth to protect the meat from flies, dirt, grass and other potential contaminants that you don’t want to end up eating.
• Alcohol-based hand cleaner is useful for sanitizing your hands when soap and water aren’t available. They can also be used to clean your knife and other equipment.” – New Zealand Hunting Guide

"Without a sense of humor, you’re better off dead" " — Roger Rabbit

This morning, after a short swim and a long latte, I decided it was time for the hardware store. The girl at the juice place drew me a napkin map and I went straight from there, sandy feet and all. I walked in the automatic glass doors armed with a measurement conversion application on my i-phone and a penciled list pinched from ‘’. I decided to ignore the two pornographic wet spots my bikini had made on the front of my shirt and the fact that my bum hung out of my too-small beach shorts, hoping that if I did the store staff might do the same. I made it in unnoticed and bee-lined it to the back.

The stakes are easy to find, conveniently arranged in the garden section. Metal or plastic? Both. Then, wire cutters – cheap ones, but good enough for last minute repairs in the field. So far so good. I add a measuring tape and some trash bags—off list. Last stop: twine. Looking, looking; then, NABBED! The large, older gentlemen from behind the counter finds me. “Can I help?” “Twine” doesn’t seem to translate. He says he doesn’t have any but I figure it’s my fault. I rack my brain for another word for twine. At this point I realize that he has noticed my fairly obvious guilty conscience and seedy attempts to avoid eye contact. He looks from my list to my flip flops to my basketful of body-disposal supplies. “What is it for?” Shit. Shit, shit, shit. I try to come up with a story. I look in my basket: Wire cutters + wire + trash bags + stakes = a horse’s head in your bed? Come on, think! Too much red wine with the Thai takeout last night – I’ve got nothing. I fold under pressure. I look at him as apologetically as I can. “I’m going to catch a bunny.” I’m such an asshole. I look down at my hands, embarrassed, and wait for him to call someone and for that someone to take me away.

“Oh.” Pause. “With a snare?” Uh-oh. I knew this was stupid. I shake my head, just a little – not enough to be dishonest but enough to cast some doubt, then sneak a look around the perimeter for bee bee guns, or pellet guns, or any guns for that matter – I’d have gladly bought anything that seemed like a rational rabbit killing tool to save face. I briefly consider ditching the basket and running out the front. “Well, I guess you could try nylon but I think you’d do better with thin rope. You don’t want it to stretch” he says, unmoved. Classic. Really? Is it really the case that an American tourist fresh from a one-woman wet t-shirt contest on a killing spree is no big surprise? He asks me where I’m going to set my snares. I tell him. Another bad idea: totally not private land. I ask him what he thinks. He shakes his head and starts walking towards another aisle. I follow. I’m sweating and probably wear a nervous wince. As he rounds the corner he launches into a diatribe about his garden; how frustrated he is; the various methods he’s tried; that he thinks about killing those damned rabbits all day at work and when he gets home they’ve eaten his last head of lettuce; that he doesn’t care about even his own objections to poison he’s had it up to here and his wife is pissed and he hates to do it but he’s giving in to the 1080 and there’s a town hall meeting tonight on the Rabbit Extermination Program for the area and he and the missus are going and do I care to join? For a split second I consider it, but then I chase him down the hole. I tell him I’m planning to eat my bunny. A small rise, one eyebrow. He hands me the rope. He rubs his chin. “They’re good in stews,” he says – then he walks back to his counter. I think I like it here.

I pile the goods in front of Mr. Fudd. As he’s ringing me up, I notice a bit of shiny red plastic out of the corner of my eye: Judge Doom’s gloves. The ultimate barrier between me and my reservations! An impenetrable crimson barricade to block the unmentionable! Wait—is this cheating??? Who cares. They go up to my elbows and they are coated in PVC. I grab them off the rack and put them on the counter. I last a whole two seconds, then burst into uncontrollable, maniacal giggling. I am mortified.

As a kid it was so simple: Bugs good, Elmer bad. Good guy vs. bad guy. As an adult things seldom remain so black and white. There’s almost always a bit of ambivalence about who the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ guys are. In popular culture Hitler is the standard for pure evil and Ghandi for pure good but the spectrum in between has every shade, not to mention the fact that (though it in no way forgives him) Hitler was reputedly a great guy in person – the sort of fellow you’d love to have a beer with, to use the parlance of our times – and (though it in no way diminishes him) Ghandi was reputedly hard to work for. In my present Elmer V. Bugs conundrum and in Bugs’ favor, it’s awkward to be associated with a civilization that simultaneously tends toward a policy preference for native animals and a policy preference for non-native humans. Each preference has had its moments of inhumanity, and, at least in the case of the latter, monstrosity. Even if the only opposition between the two preferences is tropic it still deserves a bit of consideration. Insofar as we are capable of reflection, capable of a rational determination of boundaries and definition of right and wrong (or good and bad), our treatment of animals deserves consideration alongside our treatment of people.

So…what to do with those pesky wabbits??? Next to my (canvas) bag of tools, I am in need of some definition. I start with my central question: Is it ethical to eat meat? To which there are at least two subsets:

I. Is it ethical to eat meat?

a. If so, how?

b. If so, what?

These, in and of themselves, have their own parameters which blend together at various points. I.E.:

I. Is it ethical to eat meat?

a. If so, how?
i. Gun, snare, stake, axe…
ii. Organic, not organic; kosher, not kosher; halal, not halal;
invasive v. native; wild v. domesticated
iii. Vegetarian, Pescatarian, Vegan, Anti-lactose, No pork, etc.
iv. Working conditions, minimum wage standards, gender
inequalities, shipping distances, shipping practices, land ownership/ exploitation…

b. If so, what?
i. Goat not dog, shark not whale, cow not horse
(sometimes), kangaroo not koala…
ii. (Mixed with how): Freerange v. Not, Antibiotics v. Not, Organic v. Not, Local v. Not, Farmed v. Wild, heart not lungs, liver not brain (sometimes), muscle not fat (not usually)…
iii. Cost, availability, in season vs. not in season…

So in many ways, ‘a’ and ‘b’ are the same question. Of course, ‘how’ and ‘what’ can pale in the face of ‘how much’, specifically, at the check-out counter. Then tack on ‘status’. I find myself strategically placing the Chinese broccoli on top of the low low priced (and fat!) kangaroo I buy in the market, for fear that it is not a ‘cool’ meat. Or at least not a meat of the rich and superior, like fancy game or grass fed slow massaged bovine bottom….more in line with the mutton, minced beef, the tough, no-longer-laying chickens of the proletariat. I buy it anyway and I feed it to my guests. In Australia, there are no native ‘hoof’ed animals, some natives tell me over cocktails. So the cows destroy the top soil. Not so with the kangeroos—they are abundant, good for the land and good for the barbeque. Conveniently, farmers hate them. Pass the chutney. Which brings us back to the bunnies. How important is it to eat the right meat in the right way? What is right?

Well, bollocks to that…I have a snare to build.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Space Bunnies Must Die

“I love to use rabbit, particularly very young ones (kittens) because they’re sweet and tender,” says chef Mark Best. “It’s a very versatile beast with marvelous eating qualities. We like to break it into shoulders, the saddle and the legs – each requiring very different cooking methods. The legs braised in hot butter in a nutty crust, slightly rare on the bone.”

In good sporting (not to mention, colonial) fashion, Thomas Austin, a member of the Victorian Acclimatisation Society, released 24 rabbits he had brought from England onto his property near Geelong for sport hunting on Christmas Day, 1859. Oops. Rabbits were introduced to Australia only a few years earlier, in Tasmania. Over the thirty odd years after Christmas 1859 the bunnies went bonkers, spreading quickly into New South Wales, eventually reaching the Northern Territory and Western Australia, several thousand miles away. The rabbit spread across Australia faster than any recorded colonization by a mammal anywhere in history, aided by the previously occupied burrows of now dispersed native species and the rabbit’s symbiosis with European human modifications to the natural environment. Which is to say: rabbits were great at taking over in the bush and did just fine on farm land, too. Not so for most of the native species. “Rabbits are now one of the most widely distributed and abundant mammals in Australia.” Oh the woe a homesick Brit can cause.

Rabbits have fantastic reproductive potential, outdone in the animal kingdom in a contest of sheer sex drive perhaps only by rats (which, if you haven’t read the authoritative book on the topic (Rats, by Robert Sullivan), you’re really missing out [Ed.]). In any case, they do, after all, screw like rabbits. A single pair of rabbits can produce between 30-40 offspring a year. They live both under and on ground, in warrens and tunnels through underbrush. The diseases and parasites common to European and American rabbits are largely absent in Australia. Australia has few predators in general and completely lacks wild mustelids such as ferrets or weasels: the predators who, elsewhere, hunt rabbits where they live (cunning bastards!). Because Australia is virtually predator free, largely disease free, temperate and fertile, there are quite a few very successful invasive species: goats, feral rabbits, feral camels (what?!?), cane toads, feral cats (house), red fox, feral pigs, on and on. The rabbit outdoes them all in population, if not in destruction: though Oz may be good for the bunny, the bunny is baaaaaaaaaaad for the Oz.
“Rabbits are Australia’s most widespread and destructive environmental and agricultural vertebrate pest. Impact on agricultural production is greatest in drier areas where pasture production is low and rabbits can increase to high densities and compete with stock.”

The impact of the alien species: damage to vegetation through ringbarking, grazing, browsing; and the prevention of regeneration of native plants (they eat the seeds), all resulting in detrimental habitat change. Rabbits threaten native mammals (including the Bilby, the rabbit-eared Bandicoot) through competition for food and shelter, and by incubating outbreaks of RHD – Rabbit Haemmorhagic Disease or Calcivirus and Myxomatosis. They also overgraze (little gluttons) causing soil erosion, changes in quality and quantity of flora and fauna, and damage to native vegetation. And so on. My biologist friends shudder, I’m sure. My French Canadian and Sonoma-n chef friends, however…

What to Do? …1080 Poison

Imagine my surprise, the morning after my first encounter with the feral Eurasian rabbit on Australian soil, an encounter that, like all encounters with rabbits makes me think of my dear friend Claire and her hysterical anthropomorphic physical comedy routine whenever running bunnies are sighted (“Oh God! Gotta run fast, gotta, run, ‘cause I’m soooo tasty!”), waking up to a fit of ideas and tiny beady eyes crashing around in my head, when I opened the sad, free newspaper on my doorstep, two cups of gritty French press coffee in (which must be savored no matter how disappointing: we have but a slow hand operated coffee grinder and less than half of a pound of our smuggled, favorite espresso beans left), when I read the news: VICTORIA RABBIT ERADICATION PROGRAM: 1080 PROGRAM BEGINNING MARCH 5. Hello moral validation for an uncertain conscience…. I took my coffee straight to the library.

Australia has been battling the invasive rabbit population for years. They have tried everything to get rid of the little beasties: introduction of diseases, fencing, and something called biological control, whatever that is. One effective longer-term form of rabbit management is destruction of the warren networks. Destruction of rabbit cities can cause havoc, dispersion, and death, effectively reducing the ‘unwanted others’. Like Kanye West’s delightfully spot on assessment of George Bush’s New Orleans policy, perhaps? No, seriously friends…back to the bunnies… This is no problem that can be solved with a mere shoddy levee and a few bumbling public safety appointees: we need WMD. Bollocks to city-smashing, we’ve got the bunny bomb: Poison1080.
1080 is a dynamic poison, effective for controlling all the badies: foxes, pigs, rabbits. It occurs naturally in native pea bushes, so many native species have a tolerance to it. So it’s kind of like the inverse of cholera blankets, right? Gets rid of the outsiders, protects the natives. The vehicle: carrots. (Evil giggle.)If there is a risk of other animals eating it (determined how?) they dye it green (which stops them how?).

And...what about me?
“ 1080 can be highly toxic for humans, but to get sick you would need to:
• eat at least 100g of carrot baits (1080-laced carrots are dyed bright green so they cannot be mistaken for normal carrots), or
• drink over 5000 litres of water, in one sitting, from a waterway directly contaminated by a poison drop, or
• eat at least 37kg of meat, in one sitting, from a sheep that died of 1080 poisoning (the meat from about 2.5 average-sized sheep).” (New Zealand Food Safety Authority.)

Be assured, lest my war-mongering glee convince you otherwise, we do these deeds thoughtfully and with great care to suffering. 1080 has been touted as the most humane available. It is illegal to use jawed traps, to torture, etc, as determined by decades of research and careful consideration. Under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, every state that participates in programs to eradicate non-native feral species must develop committees, under the control of the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy, to assess the “relative humanness” of pest control methods.

Uh-oh. RELATIVE. HUMANE. NESS. Here it comes. Well, at least we’re on familiar ground. I have met this ethical conundrum before. Regretfully, I come from a place where the Death Penalty is still used in conjunction with a legal system known to produce false convictions. (No, not Iran, silly!) In any case, Relative Humaneness – humane-ish-ness, I suppose: the approximation of the humane – is the ace up the sleeve in that dirty debate and can get you out of the inevitable bind of participating in backwards, medieval witch hunts gone awry. “Might’ve killed the wrong man, but at least we did it humane-ish-ly.” The glitch lies in the lack of precision with regard to what’s humane-ish, of course, but that’s what racism, deliberate ignorance, and Jeb and George Bush are for, right?

Well, let’s hope not here, at least. What Is Humane is one of the critical questions of my choice. What is suffering? Can we understand the suffering of an animal? Of another human being? Of an event that leaves no first hand account? Aren’t we just animals? Is suffering not an essential aspect of living? Does that get us off the hook? My husband is from a place with wolves and bears and snow. He says that animals kill or are killed every day. Brutally, bloodily, without committees…It’s natural. He also says that the word humane doesn’t pertain. It’s our word: it’s about human consideration of the issue at hand (suffering) and has no bearing on the natural order itself. It’s not even a word for our judgment of the natural order and its suffering, but is limited to the judgment of human participation in that order, specifically, whether that human participation exhibits compassion, benevolence, and mercy, concepts that are regrettably not characteristically human but are nonetheless uniquely human. In addition, we have, at out fingertips, a goody bag of technology: poison, jagged jawed traps, seal bombs, death cones, pellet guns, meat hooks, mouse traps, snares… And in our quest for human-ish-ness, we try to limit the suffering. Yet, as I weigh my options, I find myself wondering: FOR WHOM?

“RABBIT CONTROL [TOWN MEETING]… Throughout the evening, techniques such as warren ripping, bait laying, fumigation and warren destruction…will be demonstrated. [Members of the Rabbit Neighborhood Group encourages attendees]to undertake a six-step programme, which includes: Talking to neighbors to co-ordinate control works, planning your rabbit control programme, assessing the density of rabbis, laying pindone carrot bait, burrowing fumigation and warren destruction. ..”

What responsibilities do we have when we electively cause death? I.E., HOW TO CATCH A BUNNY?