Lesley Fox: In Year of the Rabbit, over-population crisis looms across B.C.

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      It is going to be the Year of the Rabbit, and it’s a good thing because Peter Cottontail and his friends need all the attention they can get.

      There is a rabbit over-population crisis looming in many cities in B.C., including Delta, Kamloops, Kelowna, Nanaimo, Richmond, Vernon, and Victoria.

      The suspected cause? Dumping.

      Domestic rabbits, perhaps a one-time “Easter gift”, are routinely dumped by irresponsible guardians onto public green spaces. Once abandoned, the rabbits breed like crazy.

      The offspring of these former pet rabbits are unsocialized and feral. The breeding rapidly continues and, before you know it, we literally have hundreds of rabbits eating the landscape.

      That number is increasing exponentially.

      The gestation period for a rabbit is 28 days, and it is possible for a rabbit to conceive immediately after giving birth. Therefore, it is possible for a rabbit to have 13 litters in a year. There can be anywhere between two to 10 rabbits in one litter! You do the math. So how are various cities coping with the problem?

      On Vancouver Island, the University of Victoria announced it wanted to cull the 1,600 rabbits that were living on campus. To help save the bunnies from certain death, several community groups stepped forward, and with a spay/neuter grant from the Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals, over 700 rabbits have now been placed in sanctuaries.

      While UVic continues to deal with the situation, the City of Victoria is now considering adopting bylaws to prevent the sale of unsterilized rabbits to help curb the problem.

      In the town of Canmore, Alberta, council recently approved spending $50,000 to remove bunnies and transport them to wildlife rehabilitation centres to be used as food. But now the live-trapping of thousands of rapidly-breeding feral rabbits seems to be attracting unwanted predators like coyotes and cougars and the town is in a real predicament.

      In Vernon, local rabbit rescue groups are working overtime to live trap, spay/neuter, and re-home the animals. To date, one small group has rescued and taken in over 225 rabbits.

      But perhaps the most proactive step was made by the City of Richmond. In early 2010, council voted unanimously to ban the sale of rabbits in pet stores. New Westminster, Kelowna, and North Vancouver have also adopted sale restrictions.

      While these efforts might have spared the lives of many rabbits, the problem still persists and it is growing.

      What is the long-term answer? Like many issues affecting animals, the root cause is in our perception.

      Animals are not toys to be bought, sold, or simply dumped. Rabbits in particular are gentle creatures. They require a lifetime commitment to their care.

      If you are considering adopting a rabbit, you should know they can live up to 12 years and require a great deal of social interaction. You cannot just stick them in a cage and feed them pellets. They need lots of exercise, fresh hay, and a variety of fresh vegetables.

      It is also important to note rabbits are not ideal companions for children.

      While rabbits like to be around people, they usually do not like to be held. Rabbits are a prey animal, so handling them makes them nervous.

      Lastly, like other animals, rabbits require routine veterinary care and need to be spayed or neutered.

      To help make a difference in the over-population of rabbits, you can contact your mayor and council and ask them to ban the sale of rabbits in pet stores and to require that rabbits be spayed or neutered prior to adoption.

      If you could care less about rabbits, you still might want to advocate for their sterilization as it will be your tax dollars that foot the bill for their management in your city.

      Lesley Fox is the executive director of the Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals, based in Burnaby.

      Comments

      19 Comments

      miguel

      Jan 17, 2011 at 4:31pm

      A rabbits' incisors never stop growing, and they will chew on everything in sight. Make sure your roommate gets that, and not let their damn rabbit loose in the house.
      Miguel

      Sorelle Saidman

      Jan 17, 2011 at 9:14pm

      Lesley and the Fur-Bearer Defenders have done more to save the UVic rabbits than anybody, the rescue would not have happened without them, and this article hits the nail on the head -- ban pet store sales of rabbits and get them fixed!
      In addition, a new proposal called Rabbitats Canada is in the works to help contain and control the populations. Please see http://www.refresheverything.ca/rabbitatscanada for details, and while you're there, vote for this initiative!

      Kelowna rabbits

      Jan 18, 2011 at 7:29am

      Kelowna was actually the first city to pass a ban on the sale of non-sterilized rabbits in 2009 and a number of other cities are following suit. Feral rabbits have all but disappeared in Kelowna thanks to the efforts of the city and local animal rescue groups.

      Birdy

      Jan 18, 2011 at 12:15pm

      "The offspring of these former pet rabbits are unsocialized and feral."
      You mean to say they're NORMAL RABBITS?

      "...before you know it, we literally have hundreds of rabbits eating the landscape."

      Oh fuck not the grass!! Not the precious grass! How will we ever replace our perfectly manicured grass?!

      "...you still might want to advocate for their sterilization as it will be your tax dollars that foot the bill for their management"

      I'd rather advocate against idiot government twerps micro-managing nature. Over the next few years, once food prices get high enough, this 'problem' will take care of itself.

      Carmina

      Jan 18, 2011 at 1:39pm

      The staff report, Amendments to the Animal Control Bylaw, to Victoria Council, does NOT recommend banning the sale of rabbits in pet stores.
      www.rabbitadvocacy.com

      Jean

      Jan 18, 2011 at 1:54pm

      Rabbit is excellent food...

      Angela Yamaguchi

      Jan 18, 2011 at 5:39pm

      This is an excellent article about the tragic consequences of dumping your rabbit. I live in Canmore, where there is a large feral bunny population. Sadly, this has been going on for years. Now the town is planning to remove the bunnies, but their solution is inhumane and impractical. It would be more humane and logical to spay/neuter and try to rehome. Educating the public about being responsible pet owners should be a number one priority. There aren't any pet stores selling rabbits in Canmore, but this doesn't stop people from buying them in Calgary. If pet stores would stop selling unaltered bunnies it would make a huge difference and save a lot of bunnies lives.

      Sorelle Saidman

      Jan 18, 2011 at 6:02pm

      They can't easily be rehomed/adopted out Angela, its illegal to possess them without a permit, but we can try and set up mini-sanctuaries for them. Please see http://www.refresheverything.ca/rabbitatscanada for details. If this project gets enough support in time, we can make a pitch to help the Canmore ,

      Angela Yamaguchi

      Jan 18, 2011 at 6:06pm

      I live in Canmore where, as mentioned in the article, there is a huge feral bunny population. Now these innocent bunnies are going to be captured and shipped to be used as food. There solution is inhumane. There aren't any pet stores selling rabbits in Canmore, but this doesn't stop people from buying them in Calgary. I agree that banning the sale of unaltered bunnies is the most effective way to help decrease the feral rabbit population.