Page last updated at 13:27 GMT, Wednesday, 15 October 2008 14:27 UK

Mandela's jail overrun by rabbits

File photo of a rabbit on Robben Island
An official said the exact number of rabbits was unknown

South Africa's Robben Island is to be closed for two weeks while authorities cull rabbits that have overrun the site where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned.

The rabbits are so numerous that they threaten the island's vegetation and historic buildings, an official said.

Mr Mandela, who became South Africa's president after the end of apartheid, was held on Robben Island for 18 years.

The UN World Heritage site has become one of the country's most famous tourist attractions.

"The current population is so large that it threatens to permanently damage the island's sensitive vegetation, and poses a serious threat to other fauna species," said Seelan Naidoo, an official at the Robben Island museum.

A "humane" cull would be carried out in co-ordination with animal rights groups, he said.

This will be followed by a sterilisation programme aimed at allowing a small and manageable population of rabbits.

The Robben Island museum, located off the coast of Cape Town, is to be closed from 1-16 November.

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