CARNDONAGH (IRELAND) • Mr Steven McGonigal crosses a pockmarked field in the north of Ireland with a box of unruly ferrets while his dog, Fudge, sniffs out rabbit warrens.
As the lurcher does his work, Mr McGonigal covers the openings with nets before releasing a single ferret down the hole to flush out the occupants inside.
For five minutes, the ferret races around the underground tunnels, poking its head out of dotted holes like a whack-a-mole.
Mr McGonigal looks on in twitchy anticipation.
Then, in a split-second blur of grey fur, a rabbit emerges tangled in a net. Mr McGonigal sprints over, grasps it by the legs and neck and dispatches it with a deft tug.
"It's the traditional way," the 37-year-old former accountant said in a field outside Carndonagh at the northern edge of Ireland.
"We don't damage the ground, we're not laying poisons, we give the rabbits a quick and clean death – and that's most important."
Mr McGonigal is said to be Ireland's last traditional rabbit catcher, preferring ferrets, dogs, spades and nets over modern guns and poison.
Rabbits – fluffy, cute and doe-eyed to many and kept as household pets – are considered pests in the countryside.
They are greedy consumers of vegetation, their warrens compromise buildings and their breeding rate can quickly inflate numbers.
As well as gardeners and farmers, Mr McGonigal has built up a client list for his services including schools, golf courses and oil refineries.
Becoming the last rabbit catcher in Ireland's emerald outdoors is a far cry from his former accounting job.
"I was getting to where I was looking forward to going out, I was starting to dread going back in," he said of his previous number-crunching profession.
After a childhood spent owning ferrets, fishing and shooting, taking the career leap to full-time rabbit catcher in 2013 was a natural step, he said.
But he admitted that the sometimes grisly demands of killing rabbits by hand is not for everyone.
"It doesn't appeal to a lot of people," he conceded.
The practice of rabbit catching with ferrets dates back centuries.
An illustration in the 14th-century manuscript, the Taymouth Hours, depicts a woman sending a dog or a ferret down a warren to drive a rabbit out into a net.
Mr McGonigal believes that while the ancient hands-on method may be distasteful to soRead More – Source