Rabbit Advocacy Animal Matters

 

Getting an earful

Saturday, March 17, 2007 Kevin Libin, National Post 

CANMORE, Alta. - Snuggled in the Bow Valley, in the shadow of Alberta's Rockies, Canmorites learn to live alongside wildlife. It's not unheard of to meet an elk browsing shop windows on Railway Avenue. Occasionally, a bear trundles into town to stir up excitement. And everyone knows that cats not home by sundown are fair game for peckish coyotes.

But no species has adapted to life here better than the bunny. Thousands of them have overwhelmed Canmore. In some areas, they roam unfettered, chewing up shrubs and flowers, burrowing under garages and dropping pellets in such quantity that some lawns, from a distance, appear carpeted in a dark, loamy berber rug. Still, their most infuriatingly adaptive quality is being so crushingly adorable that few humans can steel themselves to harm a hair on their fluffy little heads. Until now.

Many Canmorites, lovers of nature by definition, have had enough of the varmint plague. "Terminate them," says Peter Withington, coldly, just out of earshot of a fuzzy bunny, sniffing his way around a nearby lawn. Cuddly or not, Mr. Withington says, the situation is out of hand.

Whether his neighbours are willing to go that far is what the town hopes to find out. "People call and complain and say, 'They're eating my plants, they're ruining my yard, somebody's got to do something,' and so it comes up at a council meeting. Then, the next week, a group of Grade 5s show up at the Mayor's office with a petition saying, 'Please don't hurt the rabbits,' " says Sally Caudill, Canmore's communications and environmental care co-ordinator. "It's a very political issue."

Last week, Canmore began issuing residents a survey. In addition to asking them to rate their level of alarm, and list any anti-rabbit measures they take at home, it asked whether they "support euthanasia as a means of rabbit control." Canmorites have until month's end to register their opinions, but one town employee estimates the results currently running 50-50 -- "with maybe a bit more in favour of saving them."

Talk to folks in south Canmore, the heart of the beasts' lair, where fortresses of chicken wire encircle every garden and where opinion seems in favour of toppling the rabbits' reign. For as long as 30 years, the invaders have made themselves at home here, the result of pet owners having released their unwanted pet charges into the wild.

So prolific are they that the valley's foxes, coyotes, cougars and raptors have failed to suppress their numbers. There is no official count, but some estimate that as many as 3,000 roam the town. If nothing is done, residents know next year will bring more.

"They don't belong here," says Tom Martin, owner of Hogs and Quiches Bed and Breakfast, who has lost a fortune in landscaping to the ravenous lagomorphs. "I feel sorry for the little critters. And if they were an indigenous species, it would be, like, 'So what? We're living in their territory.' But they're only domestic bunnies that have gone feral." If this were an infestation of creatures less lovable, such as mice, many agree they would already be dead.

But exactly what can be done is a mystery. Australia, which has battled non-indigenous rabbits since they were introduced in the 19th century, has tried everything from engineering fatal bunny viruses to stretching fences from coast to coast. Nothing has worked.

Poison is out of the question with kids and pets nearby, Ms. Caudill says. Hunting is just as dangerous, and residents were traumatized last year when an anonymous "Rabbit Renegade" prowled the night, shooting bunnies and leaving bloodied corpses for horrified children to find on their way to school. And the town lacks the equipment or manpower for a massive trapping operation.

Ever since word of the scourge began spreading, Mayor Ron Casey has fielded ideas from around the world. From New Hampshire, one bird enthusiast suggested he host a falconing convention, promising a tourist boom and a quick end to the rabbits. From Africa, a chef e-mailed Mr. Casey asking, if Canmore was going to kill the rabbits, could they be shipped to Tanzania for stew? "In Africa, meat doesn't go to waste," the cook wrote.

But a rabbit massacre has risks: Area carnivores, wondering what happened to their bunny buffet, might bring their appetites into town.

The quintessential civic booster, Mr. Casey is more thrilled about the international attention than worried about rabbits -- though he lives in the worst affected area. "It's a great advertising tool," he laughs. "There's pictures of Canmore now being transmitted around the world." He admits, though, that the coverage risks souring should the town resort to violence--one reason he hopes for a less drastic resolution. "We have learned to live with grizzly bears and cougars and elk and deer," he says. "We can live with rabbits."

It would be terrible, he adds, if Canmore's reputation for neighbourliness with nature were ruined, like so many gardens and lawns, by an unstoppable horde of rabbits.

March 17, 2007

Re: Getting an earful

Hello Kevin,

Thanks for your terrific article in today's National Post on the large feral rabbit population in Canmore, Alberta.

I have been actively involved in the rabbit rescue-advocacy field for well over a decade now, and can say that we are experiencing the same issues in a number of municipalities in British Columbia, including Vancouver, Richmond, Kelowna, and Victoria.

One of the biggest problems is that baby rabbits are sold through pet stores. They are often bought on impulse and within several months the majority are no longer wanted and abandoned. Most end up outdoors and are left to reproduce, litter after litter.

Petcetera is Canada's "leading pet superstore", and the 46 stores across the nation are stocked with appealing but unneutered baby bunnies. To make matters worse, the BC SPCA, the largest and most powerful animal welfare agency in our province, has a business partnership with this retailer, with the effect of perpetuating inhumane attitudes and treatment of animals. Municipal councils have been inactive on this matter.

Now we are confronted with an ever-expanding surplus of domestic pet rabbits turned feral. I don't know that anything can be done with current situations, but I do know that a collaborative approach focusing on amending existing legislation regarding breeding and selling, educational programs, and the elimination of impulse buys will help reduce future colonies from springing up.

Continued pressure over the years from animal welfare groups like Rabbit Advocacy BC and Pacific Animal Foundation (PAF) have now achieved some success. We have heard today that Petcetera will be announcing that the sale of rabbits will be discontinued in its Lower Mainland outlets as of April 2nd and in all BC stores by September 1st, 2007.

As part of this year’s rabbit advocacy program Pacific Animal Foundation is running an advertising campaign encouraging the public not to buy "Easter Bunnies", but rather to support our ongoing efforts to stop all rabbit sales. Our first ad was in Thursday, March 8th's Province newspaper (page A26) and another one will be in the March 21st edition, followed by a 3rd one in The Vancouver Sun on March 28th. I've attached a jpg for your viewing.

Anything you can do to call attention to this matter will be greatly appreciated. Public pressure has forced these changes and we hope that in the near future Petcetera will discontinue rabbit sales in all its stores across Canada.

Following are some links on domestic rabbit issues you may find of interest. Please feel free to contact me should you require further information.

Sincerely,

Carmina Gooch, Director
Pacific Animal Foundation
Pets In Need Society
Rabbit Advocacy Group of BC
North Vancouver, BC

Note: The links and copy of our Province ad have been removed but do browse our "Pet Stores-Rabbits" section for further reading.  Letters are often copied to media outlets and other animal welfare/advocacy societies.  

Rabbits popping up in new neighbourhoods

Pam Doyle Canmore Leader Wednesday April 25, 2007

Domesticated rabbits that were released into the wild in south Canmore nearly 15 years ago have pretty much stayed in that neighbourhood -- until now.

Recently, the same wild, but obviously not from a wild breed, of rabbit has been perking up its ears in neighbourhoods and areas like Silver Tip, Cougar Creek and the Nordic Centre.

The cute black and white patched rabbits, reddish brown and gray mixes are numerous in south Canmore and there has been much discussion about how to decrease their numbers.

The Town of Canmore released a survey to residents in March of this year, asking their opinion on how to dispose of or how to remove the rabbits, or if people thought that they should just be left alone. Among the questions on the survey was “do you support euthanasia as a means of rabbit control?”

The topic generated a flurry of letters to the editor and even drew the attention of the international media.

Some ideas were brought forth in jest, including moving the rabbits to other parts of town. Now they are there but nobody seems to know how they got there.

“We just kind of got used to seeing them everywhere,” Chris Hielema, owner of Inline Landscaping said. “We have seen them in Cougar Creek and at Silver Tip. They have been up there since last fall. I don’t know how they’re getting there.”

Feral rabbits that were originally from a domestic breed have learned to live in south Canmore by hiding under decks and around buildings and eating grasses and even raiding some gardens

The cute south Canmore bunnies aren’t as rugged as their jackrabbit cousins. They aren’t used to living in the forest and would have less hiding places there, according to wildlife tracker Pat Kamenka. “There are less places in the woods to hide,” Kamenka said. “Just trees and ditches.”

The predators that hunt at the Nordic Centre, like cougars and coyotes would find the south Canmore bunnies easy pickings and the displaced bunnies probably wouldn’t be as successful at increasing their numbers as their brethren to the south, he said.

Kamenka said the rabbits have also been seen in Exshaw and at Old Camp, a picnic pullout by the side of Highway 1A between Canmore and Exshaw. But since the rabbits have been noticed in neighbourhoods on the north side of Canmore, some people are scratching their heads as to how they got there.

“I live in Cougar Creek and suddenly rabbits have been appearing there in the last 10 days,” Canmore resident Glenn Naylor said last week. “It’s suspicious and it’s as if someone is transporting them there. To get to Silver Tip and the Nordic Centre, for example, they would have to travel through wild areas.”

The reason the rabbits haven’t left south Canmore is because they have been restricted by borders that affect them. The small lagamorphs cannot swim across the Bow River, they will not walk across the Bow River bridge and it would be suicide for them to try and cross the Trans Canada Highway. That leaves nothing left to the imagination, but assistance by human hands. And no one has been caught yet.

“We haven’t received any complaints,” Greg Burt, manager of Bylaw Services said.
If someone is caught transporting rabbits, they could be in for a nasty fine. “We have a hunting and trapping bylaw within the town limits,” Burt said. “The fine is not less than $500 and not more than $2,500.”

For now, nobody knows if the rabbits are being trapped and moved to save them or to spread the annoyance felt by south Canmore residents, but it isn’t expected that the animals will thrive in their new digs. 

Bunnies get reprieve in Canmore 

June 28, 2007 Calgary Sun

Canmore residents are pretty much split down the middle on what to do with an annoying abundance of bunnies in town. And fortunately, for the rabbits, it looks like no drastic action will be taken to deal with the hare-raising experience plaguing the mountain community.

Sally Caudill, the town's communications and environmental care coordinator, said there is no formal council direction on the issue. "At this point, aside from making sure our own facilities are rabbit proof we won't do anything else," she said today. "That's good news for the rabbits. "Some residents feel we should let the rabbits be and they'll be very happy."

The live-and-let-live attitude comes after council received results of a town-wide survey done earlier this year on how to deal with the exploding rabbit population. Out of the respondents, 121 backed euthanasia while 126 did not.

At a Tuesday meeting of the council's committee of the whole it was agreed to try to give residents the latest greatest tips on how to best and most humanly deal with the nasty bunnies. Caudill said while there is "no rabbit expert on staff," town officials have researched the issue and can offer information to help residents try to keep the critters out of their gardens and lawns.

The town will also set an example by bunny-proofing its properties. "The town should at least get its house in order," she said. "What I think will happen in the 2008 budget is we will try to make sure our facilities are rabbit-proof." "If residents feel like they need information we will try to work with them."

While town officials have never done a so-called rabbit count some estimate there are about 1,000 in the town.

The plague began about 15 years ago when a few domestic pets were set free and left to breed with the locals. The subsequent explosion in their population led some to put barriers like chicken wire around gardens while scarecrow sprinklers - which work on motion detectors and spray water to scare off approaching rabbits - are being tested in parts of town.

Besides taking a toll on the foliage the rabbits attract predators like coyotes and foxes in to the town, located 90 km west of Calgary.

December 16, 2010 Canmore Mayor Ron Casey has secured support for a $50,000 budget to deal with feral rabbits. "The number of cougars in the area and in residential districts is a direct result of a ready supply of rabbits, which are acting as a wildlife attractant," said Casey. He further added that while it’s hard to estimate the rabbit population, it could be several thousand - all descendants from domestic rabbits released by residents who’ve grown tired of their pet. Casey said he expects the $50,000 to be spent in the second half of 2011 with additional funds needed in 2012 to continue the program on an ongoing basis.

Once again, it’s the innocent animals paying the ultimate price for reckless human behaviour. When will it ever end?

July 2, 2011 Canmore Town Council will meet on July 5th to debate what measures should be taken to get rid of the town's rabbits. The feral rabbit management plan, endorsed by Mayor Casey, calls for the animals to be trapped, put down at another location, and then sent to wildlife rehabilitation centres to be used as food. The town has received about 5,200 emails from the community in reaction to the proposal, with "about two-thirds against the program" said Mayor Casey.

If approved, several bylaws would need altering, including a ban on trapping animals. Civic officials estimate there are about 2,000 rabbits, up from 1,000 four years ago and an original population of a dozen that were released into the wild by a resident in the mid-1980s.

Meanwhile, an activist group called Save Canmore Bunnies is hoping to have the rabbits sterilized and relocated to sanctuaries. They are busy collecting 1,222 signatures within the town of 12,000 to have a legal position to present to council.

July 5, 2011 Canmore’s feral management plan was amended to include the non-lethal program put forward by Save Canmore Bunnies as part of a request for proposal process.  Not all councillors supported adding the option, questioning whether trapping, anesthetizing, sterilizing, rehabilitating and relocating rabbits is more humane than euthanasia. The final decision on which proposal is to be chosen is expected to be made by council by the end of October.

September 2011 Kyndra Biggy, Save Canmore Bunnies, has said the group has submitted its RFP. They are working with Susan Vickery of EARS, most noted for the escapes of multitudes of relocated UVic rabbits under her direct care because of inadequate fencing and lack of security at the Coombs sanctuary. The result was a neighbor hiring a shooter, recommended by the MoE, to eradicate rabbits on her adjacent property. A break-in earlier this year saw 20 rabbits stomped to death, but not reported by Vickery until a month later. The RCMP has closed the file. However, the rabbits remain at risk.   

Those interested in donating for the Canmore bunnies can do so via EARS, and will be issued a tax receipt. Vickery is a media spokesperson for the group and says donations garnered will help with sterilization and other costs. We’ll have to wait and see. Groups and individuals who had worked with Vickery have some very real concerns about her involvement.   

In the meantime, please contact Mayor Casey and Canmore officials with suggestions on humane and long-lasting solutions for the rabbits. Michael O’Sullivan, CEO of the Humane Society of Canada, recently informed the Town that it is “opposed to killing Canmore’s rabbits because it is inhumane and doomed to failure.”  He further added that the issue is a political one, not one of public safety or health, and that if “Canmore chooses a lethal solution to a human-caused problem the Society will mount a legal challenge against it.” You can imagine the controversy that stirred up.

Read the letter here. Canmore's city council will make the decision whether to kill or relocate the bunnies later in October.

September 29, 2011 Letter questioned

November 2, 2011 Canmore Council voted last night to have the town’s resident rabbits exterminated. The contract was awarded to a trapping firm, Animal Damage Control, beginning Nov. 14 and running through to April 27, 2012.  At the same time, the door remains open for a non-profit society to propose a program to spay/neuter and permanently relocate the animals to an approved sanctuary. Finding land to house the rabbits has been the greatest obstacle for the group, Save Canmore Bunnies.

Greg Burt, the town’s manager of bylaw services, told council there were two “no kill” bids: One was a consultant offering to work with the town and concerned groups in the community and in the other “nothing was concrete” — a sanctuary was not identified, and the bid did not meet “many of the requirements” set out by the town.

Canmore Mayor Ron Casey says one of the reasons the town has so many rabbits is that Alberta wildlife officers killed off coyotes in the area a few years ago after some runs-ins with children. The rabbit numbers then exploded because they have no natural predators.

The soaring human population, 7 billion now, and our interference with Mother Nature has met with deadly and devastating results.

Canmore rabbits face death sentence

November 5, 2011 Controversy over Canmore’s decision to award $50,000 to Animal Damage Control to eliminate the town's feral rabbits is escalating. Canmore officials and the contractor admit this is a multi-year problem and could end up costing considerably more. If people keep dumping rabbits there will always be issues like this to contend with. Citizens are becoming more vocal in their opposition to lethal measures sanctioned by government, in futile attempts to remedy a solution created by humans. Why must an animal always pay the ultimate price for the stupidity of humans? It’s simply not right. Animal law is a rapidly growing field and the Courts are being utilized more and more by those seeking justice on behalf of animals.   

Dan Onischuk, an Alberta resident, feels strongly about the rabbits of Canmore and has taken the step of filing a legal injunction against the Town. Read the basis for the claim and the remedy sought.   

Alberta town's plan to eliminate rabbit overrun hitting legal snag 

November 10, 2011 The Canadian Press  

CALGARY — An Alberta town's controversial plan to eliminate up to 2,000 feral rabbits may have to hop over a legal hurdle first.

Canmore has hired a contractor to trap the bunnies and will then have them gassed if an animal welfare group won't agree to sterilize and relocate them. The contract was awarded to a firm of professional trappers and was scheduled to go into effect on Monday.

But a motion for an injunction by an Edmonton photographer will be heard in a Calgary courtroom Monday in a bid to stave off the move. Dan Onischuk wants a temporary stay of the capture and execution while alternatives are examined.

An official with the town of Canmore confirms an injunction is being sought but says it was unlikely any action was going to get started on Monday anyway.

Comment: Rabbit Advocacy has been in contact with Canmore officials, offering suggestions for long-term, effective solutions that would help spare the lives of the rabbits. We were part of a contingent that saw a number of the UVic rabbits safely relocated to sanctuary in Washington State.

Read more: Injunction dismissed, activists forge on, the politics of it all, EARS contract, concerns; lethal control