Rabbit Advocacy Animal Matters

 

CBC Radio reports on Kelowna rabbits

November 29, 2007

Once domesticated rabbits become unwanted most people choose to take the easy way out; abandonment to the outdoors.  Free to reproduce, that's exactly what these cast-off critters do and now BC municipalities, such as the Okanagan community of Kelowna, are in a quandary as to what to do with the multiplying mammals.  

 Broadcast

Interior B.C. cities on brink of bunny boom
 
December 7, 2007 CBC News
 
'People drop them off next to us. They run all over our lawn. They dig everything up'

Several cities in the Okanagan have a cute little problem that many residents think is getting out of control. In Kelowna, Penticton and Vernon, bunnies are everywhere, grazing along the side of major highways, hopping down city streets and just passing the time on neighbourhood lawns.

The problem is at its worst in residential north Kelowna, where the furry creatures are digging up the grass and eating trees in George Keim's front yard. Keim told CBC News that he lived in his house for 13 years without a rabbit problem, then "all of a sudden, one year, bang! We've got rabbits!"

The problem got so bad last year, there were between 40 and 60 rabbits in his yard on any given day, Keim said. Keim said he won't let his grandson play on the front lawn because rabbit feces are everywhere.

Recently, the residents on his street pooled their money and installed a fence between the neighbourhood and a nearby vacant lot, which is home to many of the rabbits. But even with the wire fence, rabbits managed to get through. Now Keim wants the city to act. "The city has to do something. I phone, I can't get no answers from nobody."

Another neighbour, Jason Stotes, agreed it is time the municipal government stepped in. "I would like them to take some control over the rabbits. People drop them off next to us. They run all over our lawn. They dig everything up. Our community, we put up a fence to keep them out of here, and it doesn't seem to be working," Stotes said.

If nothing is done, the situation could get worse, according to some experts. A rabbit breeder from Summerland, Roxane Woldenga, estimated there could be almost 5,000 rabbits running wild in the Kelowna area. "Right now, Kelowna's population is at a critical-mass point. It's contained by roads or buildings. However, the rabbits have now reached a population they have no choice but to migrate outwards…. It will be almost exponential expansion."

She has warned the city of Kelowna that the bunny population has reached a critical point, and she said local authorities need to trap and relocate the animals before the population gets right out of control. 

"If they start spreading into farmland, the Okanagan will be overwhelmed," Woldenga said. "The European domestic rabbit isn't meant to live feral in our urban society. In the urban setting, there's not enough food. They will eat their way to the next field, and the one after that."

A female can give birth every 31 days, having about seven bunnies in each litter, bumping the population up from two to 70 in a year, Woldenga said.

She said she understands why city officials are reluctant to take strong measures to control the rabbit population. "We were raised on images of Bugs Bunny, Thumper and the Velveteen Rabbit. It must be political suicide to be seen signing the death warrants for these little bunnies. The bunny killer! Who wants to be seen as that?

"If these were snakes, we wouldn't be having this conversation. They would have been trapped years ago!"

'Rabbit relocation'

So instead of a cull, Woldenga is advocating a program of "rabbit relocation." She said the bunnies should be rounded up, separated by gender and then relocated to live out the rest of their lives, without the opportunity to reproduce.

The City of Kelowna has hired a consultant to study the rabbit population and make recommendations. But parks manager Joe Creron maintained it's not the city's responsibility to cull or control the rabbits. "The city is responsible for its park land, and we should take care of that, but the private owners are responsible for their own private property," Creron said. "So if they have a rabbit problem on their property, they should take care of that."

"I think the [property owner] goes to a pest company, the pest company will help trap them. It's no different than mice," Creron said. "We all have a responsibility here, and the government can't do everything for everyone on their private property."

The city is also expecting some of the rabbits to die during the winter, and it's hoping that will cut down the population. The consultant will make a presentation to city council in the New Year.

http://www.cbc.ca/canada/british-columbia/story/2007/12/07/bc-bunnyexplosion.html  

Fluorishing rabbits are targeted 
 
March 10, 2004 By Marshall Jones, Kelowna Capital News  

They've made their home in the area for years but people are growing worried that some wildish bunnies won't last long on the new Enterprise Way. At the Greyhound Bus station, Kelowna Main Firehall and all along Dilworth Mountain is the last refuge for a population of the pets gone wild.  

Robert Busch says the Kelowna SPCA found some of the rabbits last year shortly after the Okanagan Mountain Park fire but opted not to do anything about them. "We looked at the rabbits and they were fat and happy and being well cared for," he said. "But I think the numbers are getting to the point where we will have to do a spay and neuter program out there." (note: never happened; the SPCA has never been proactive with regard to rabbit welfare) 

No one knows for sure where the rabbits came from. Some local business people in the area said they used to be primarily in the Central Park golf course. The golf course is now mostly central parking lot, which leaves no place for the rabbits to go except the nearest patches of grass.  

But the few remaining places happen to line Enterprise Way, which has become a major thoroughfare since the east end was opened up all the way to Leathead Road.  

Sinikka Crosland, of The Responsible Animal Care Society, says her society's board has been concerned about the rabbits in the new hostile environment. "There are a number of dangers not only from cars but also from dogs and coyotes so they get it from both ends," she says. She is also worried that the numbers could increase enough for the city or someone else to take action so she hopes to beat them to it.  

TRACS is hoping to catch the rabbits and move them to a safer place in a refuge on the Westside. She has a truck and cages but would be looking for volunteers to help catch and transport the animals. Anyone interested can call her at 768-4803.

Comment: Kelowna, like many BC municipalities, has pocket areas of dumped domestic rabbits.  People find it's the easiest way to get rid of their pet, once s/he becomes unwanted. (a sad commentary on human behaviour and the lack of empathy toward other living creatures)  Bylaws that would address the breeding and sale of unaltered rabbits would help reduce populations. Correspondence from the Rabbit Advocacy Group of BC on this matter has been sent to Kelowna City Council.  A recent e-mail is below.  Carmina Gooch

January 21, 2008 

The dumping of pet/companion rabbits (European rabbit/Oryctolagus cuniculus) has been an ongoing and growing concern in many municipalities throughout BC and beyond.  The easy availability, the unregulated breeding, their promotion as easy "starter" pets for children, and the fact that unsterilized baby rabbits are most often an impulse buy, are all contributing factors to their subsequent abandonment.  For the past fifteen years I have fielded numerous calls from people wishing to surrender their rabbit, and the number of requests for help steadily increased as did the number of stores selling them. Of note is also our research indicating that many breeders are former or current members of the 4H Club and/or have ties with the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA).  Others, like Roxane Woldenga of Summerland, and interviewed by CBC in November of 2007, continue to supply an overburdened market with yet more "pet" rabbits. 

Meanwhile, rabbit rescue/advocacy groups are at over-capacity with these unwanted critters, the majority of which are surrendered or brought in as strays as young adults.  These all-volunteer groups and individuals then bear the costs of vet bills and spay or neuter prior to adopting the rabbit/s to new homes.  There is little demand for adult rabbits and organizations like the BC SPCA continue to kill the unwanted due to space reasons.  High-volume branches like Surrey say they have no choice if rescue groups don't step in or if the rabbit hasn't "moved." While there now appears to be limited owner surrender, people continue to do what they've always done, and that is to simply discard the animal outdoors.  It's easy, and there are no consequences for these actions. 

I don't know that there's a solution to the existing situation of rabbit abandonment in the Okanagan but what is clear is that there are a number of contributing factors that have led to this now being an issue requiring action.  Some prudent and proactive measures that might be put in place include:  

  • a bylaw allowing for the sale of rabbits to be limited to only those animals that have been spayed or neutered.  In the case of rabbits, the age of maturity is between 4-6 months of age, with 5 months being optimum for both male and female
  • space allocation for satellite adoption centres in stores
  • in-store displays to provide full details of the origin of the animals
  • a temporary moratorium on all rabbit sales; adoption of rescued rabbits only 
  • education programs
  • contact information readily available to the public for local and provincial rabbit concerns or issues
  • special licensing and frequent inspections for stores selling pet livestock
  • commercial, hobby, and backyard breeders, including 4H clubs, be regulated, licensed
  • ear tattoo or similar identification for rabbits  
  • an action plan that would include networking and a coordinated effort among key stakeholders in this issue 

In previous correspondence with the City of Kelowna (see attachment) I noted that the Community Charter allows for the regulation and prohibition of the European rabbit as they are listed in the Environment and Wildlife Regulation as an "alien invasive species."    

Also noted was that the BC SPCA and Petcetera were to have a program in place whereby the sale of all rabbits was to be discontinued in stores throughout BC by September 1st, 2007.    

As societal values change and with animal welfare issues frequently making the news, it is clear that the lives of our companion animals are of growing concern to the public.  We are increasingly rejecting the notion that pets are commodities to be bought on impulse and then abandoned when they become tiresome.  Perfectly healthy and adoptable animals should not be put down simply because they have become unwanted.  I believe we've all heard the request not to breed, buy, or sell while homeless pets die.  Having a pet is a privilege, not a right, rabbits included.  Rabbits are capable of reproducing every 30 days and many an "owner" has ended up with the unintended consequences of two baby bunnies they purchased believing they were of the same sex.   

Therefore, I am suggesting that the single most effective step in alleviating and reducing future costs to both rabbits and society is sterilization.  Shelters cannot absorb all the unwanted and "culling" doesn't provide a solution, nor is it considered humane.  We need to tackle the root of the problem in order to reduce abandonment and death statistics. 

Please visit our website www.rabbitadvocacy.com or www.petsinneedsociety.ca to view some of our rescues and advocacy work.  I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have and look forward to corresponding further with you on this matter. 

Sincerely, 

Read more: Kelowna's bunny-eliminator short of cash, B.C. gov't creates complications; TRACS bunnies today, 2016

Visit our Rescue/In Memory/Facts for more information and to see some of our rescued rabbits.