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Environment and History

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Environment and History

'An Enemy of the Rabbit': The Social Context of Acclimatisation of an Immigrant Killer

Philippa K. Wells

Environment and History 12(2006): 297-324

Along with useful and perhaps at times desirable introductions, the history of acclimatisation in New Zealand is riddled with examples of what have turned out to be catastrophic importations. Although some importations can be identified as driven by pragmatic reasons and justification, they can also in a philosophical sense be categorised as aspects of a 'Britain of the South'. The importation providing the focus of this paper is that of members of the family Mustelidae, specifically weasels, ferrets and stoats. These animals were introduced during the last twenty years of the nineteenth century to predate on rabbits, an introduced pest that in turn threatened the viability of the pastoral farming industry. The paper maps the historical context, the debate and the epilogue to the New Zealand decision to import an 'immigrant killer', not of rabbits but of iconic ground-nesting birds.

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