Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison, is overrun with European rabbits. According to The New York Times, the famous island has resorted to nightly hunts to control the population.

The island is only 1 mile wide and 2 miles long, but it is so dense with rabbits that the historic World Heritage Site buildings and the island itself are hopping toward the endangered list.

All other forms of population control have failed. Left with seemingly no other option, Robben Island managers called in the hunters. Every night two marksmen traverse the island on their fat-tired bikes, pointing searchlights into the scrub. When the rabbits stop to stare at the light, the hunters aim their .22-caliber rifles.

Chris Wilke, one of the hired marksmen, says he can kill 25 animals per hour on a good night — including the time it takes to retrieve the lifeless bodies. Since mid-October, 78 unwanted deer, 38 feral cats, and 5,300 rabbits have met their maker — with an estimated 8,000 more to go.

The New York Times’ story reports, “I can’t say this killing is fun, but I do feel good about it,” Wilke said one recent night. The plastic storage bin on his vehicle was nearly filled with carcasses. “This work is conservation. These rabbits don’t belong here. They are devastating the island.”

Oddly enough, only a few animal rights groups have had anything negative to say about the rabbit-control methods. Allan Perrins, head of the area’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said, “No one is in favor of blood being spilled on Robben Island, but the island has a finite carrying capacity … we agreed something had to be done.”

Perrins said there were so many rabbits and so little food that many of the animals appeared to be starving. Some consider this population-control measure the most humane solution.

Some animal rights advocates wouldn’t agree, however.

“Robben Island is almost a holy place, and to turn it into a killing field is so inappropriate, so disgraceful, so dirty, so immoral,” said Cicely Blumberg, founder of DARG, a pro-life, nonprofit organization that rescues abused and neglected cats and dogs in South Africa. 

Meat from the skinned bunnies was intended to be given to the less fortunate, but few of them seem to have a taste for rabbit.