I first heard about the rabbits on the University of Victoria campus from friends who were attending the school. Admittedly, my first response was re. the cute factor, but I wasn’t entirely ignorant of the problems of feral animal populations (illness and disease, injury, malnutrition, insufficient protection from the elements, overpopulation, etc.).
Since then I’ve read of many rabbit dumps (I’m compiling a reading list below). I was reminded of the colony at UVic when I stumbled on uvicbunnies.org, and I started looking into it.
The University of Victoria is aware of the rabbit problem, and last month the Office of Occupational Health, Safety and Environment concluded a pilot project with a wildlife “damage control” company, Common Ground, to capture, sterilize, and relocate 150 rabbits. In a recent UVic media release (24 March 2010), it says that “it was relatively easy to humanely capture rabbits, recruit volunteers and engage veterinarians to sterilize the rabbits,” although they fell 99 rabbits short of their original goal of 150. The real problem, however, was in the third step: relocation. 40 of the 51 sterilized rabbits were re-released back onto the campus because there wasn’t anywhere else to put them. They will be monitored for awhile, to make sure they re-integrate successfully, but it sounds like this pilot project is finis.
I think this project was a worthwhile effort (assuming a worthwhile effort was actually given). I’d like to know how the sterilized bunnies re-integrate; if successfully, what about going forth with that as a plan: capture, sterilize, release?
The campaign on uvicbunnies.org, however, fears that a cull is inevitable. The UVic media release is vague on the subject of future activity, merely referencing their “long-term plan to reduce and manage the feral rabbit population on campus,” but the director of the Office of Occupational Health, Safety and Environment, Richard Piskor, was quoted in the Globe (30 March 2010) as saying a cull is being seriously considered and, if there is to be one, it will not be announced in advance.
I think what all this demonstrates best isn’t so much finger pointing, but plain&simple the problem with rabbit dumping.
Domestic animals don’t become wild animals – with a wild animal’s experiential knowledge, and practiced instincts and physique – just because we’ve abandoned them. And the parks/backyards/woods/construction sites these rabbits are abandoned to are not their native habitats and do not provide the necessities for life, even if there are other rabbits around. As lovely as the sight of them sometimes must be, the rabbits on the UVic campus are not doing well:
Of the trapped rabbits, half of them were one year old or less, indicating high mortality rates. Many had injuries, including missing eyes, torn ears and infections. One had to be euthanized. And almost all were malnourished, Mr. Piskor said.
Then there’s the cleanup. Each day about three rabbits are killed by vehicles on UVic’s main road.
In other words, these dumps don’t keep themselves: eventually, they need to be dealt with, and even with best intentions, there’s no clean way to deal with rabbit dumps.
And, as we should know, best intentions only account for so much of what actually goes on this world.
Update (25 May 2010) The cull has begun. According to this piece on A News, they’re focusing on the areas around the sports fields, citing risk of injury to players as the main reason. The university hired a professional trapper, and the rabbits are being euthanized by vets. Some residents are suspicious and believe poisons and snares may have been set out for the rabbits as well, but the University denies this (‘poison’s for the rats, snares not set by us’). The SPCA says they have no legal recourse when a cull is being conducted humanely, and they believe this to be the case.
Update (21 Sept. 2010) The Globe has been running a series of articles on this (see links below). What’s going on now is The Rabbit Haven is in the process of transporting 1,000 of the rabbits (in batches) out of Victoria; they’ll end up at the Wild Rose Rescue Ranch in Texas. 350 more are going to The World Parrot Refuge in Coombs (on Vancouver Island).
- “Coombs parrot refuge will take in 350 feral bunnies from UVic” Nanaimo Daily News (29 July 2010)
- “Victoria rabbits offered new home in Texas” The Globe & Mail (28 July 2010)
- “B.C. top court to vet bunny cull conundrum” The Globe & Mail (13 Aug. 2010)
- “University of Victoria back in bunny-control business” The Globe & Mail (30 Aug. 2010)
- “When Cottontail doesn’t just want to run free” The Globe & Mail (20 Sept. 2010)
Updates (2011+) The story continues:
- “BC animal tales with bad endings — add bunnies to the list” National Post (9 Feb. 2011)
- “UVic touts ‘rabbit-free’ campus; new arrivals face death penalty” TimesColonist.com (31 March 2011)
- “Twenty rabbits stomped to death in attack on Coombs sanctuary” by Judith LaVoie, TimesColonist.com (9 July 2011; online article id 5075388)
Further Reading on Feral Rabbit Populations
- Blog posts on MyHouseRabbit.com: about Richmond, BC; about Kelowna, BC; about Seattle, Washington; about Sydney, Australia
- Articles on The Animal Advocates Watchdog News: about Kelowna, BC; about UVic
- An article about Finland
- A blog post about Seattle, Washington
- An article about Redmond, Washington
- A government pamphlet (pdf) about Australia
- A website about the rabbits in Woodland Park & Greenlake, Seattle, Washington
- A blog post and media release video about San Jose, California
- A news release by Long Beach City College, California
- Another article about Long Beach City College
- An article about Canmore, Alberta (Foubert, Tanya. “Canmore to cull bunnies,” Rocky Mountain Outook. Jun 16 2011.)
(Still working on this list: suggestions are welcome, especially about areas not already covered.)