A tale of Flopsy, Mopsy and public enemy No 1

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The Independent Online

The Isle of Man's public enemy number one - the rabbit - can breathe easier today. The price on its head, or tail, was revoked yesterday amid allegations of fraud, corruption and unscrupulous bounty hunters.

For 10 years the Manx rabbit has lived under the gun. A bounty scheme was brought in in an attempt to eliminate rabbits from the island. Local farmers complained a plague of the animals was decimating crops.

Myxamytosis, the natural check on the rabbit population, was on the wane and the Manx government offered a reward of 35p per rabbit, paid on presentation of the animal's tail.

There is no suggestion that this is in any way connected with the absence of tails among the Isle's cat population.

Since the scheme was launched a mountain of stumps, up to 800 a week, have been handed in to the officers of the Department of Agriculture in Douglas and rewards totalling pounds 92,500 paid out.

But even rabbits could not have bred quickly enough to explain the mounting tally of kills. There were ugly rumours of a burgeoning import trade with the mainland. People were reported arriving at island ports with sacks full of tails gathered from overseas butchers' shops. Police were called in when the tally of tails hit 264,000.

The Manx agriculture minister, John Corrin, said yesterday that one of his civil servants had been dismissed as a result of the inquiry and the scheme was being chopped forthwith. "This [scheme] was generated in response to the fact that there were too many rabbits," he said.

"Hard evidence is hard to come by but I've heard tales of people importing, and even of teddy bears being cut up and made to look like rabbit tails," he added.