updated 4/11/2006 8:08:01 AM ET 2006-04-11T12:08:01

Message to the Easter Bunny: You're not welcome in New Zealand.

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Hundreds of hunters will stalk and shoot thousands of rabbits over Easter as part of moves to cut numbers of the big eating, fast breeding pests, which are not native to New Zealand and are blamed for destroying plants and pastures.

"The Easter icon is in fact a villain," said Chris Macann, a spokesman for Environment Canterbury, a government-backed group on New Zealand's South Island.

"It is very hard to get the message across that although these look like cute cuddly creatures we want them dead," he said.

To help that aim more than 400 shooters will converge on the South Island town of Alexandra this Easter weekend — for the 15th Great Easter Bunny Hunt.

More than 500 hunters bagged 21,000 rabbits and hares during last year's hunt in the hilly grasslands of the Central Otago region, said organizer Dave Ramsay. Last year's winning team bagged 1,800 bunnies.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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