Rabbit Advocacy Animal Matters


Culling on Robben Island 'ongoing'

May 09, 2008 published in The Cape Argus

The Robben Island Museum's Council emerged from a two-day meeting on Thursday and declared itself "satisfied" with efforts to deal with the environmental crisis that has caused starvation and death in the island's animal population. But just hours earlier, a distraught Bellville woman had phoned the Cape Argus to say she had just returned from the island where she had seen a young buck dying in front of her eyes.

In a media release headed "Natural landscape is crucial to Robben Island's significance", the 14-member council appointed in October last year by Arts and Culture minister Pallo Jordan for a three-year term, said it was satisfied with both short- and long-term plans to deal with the island's presently degraded environment. These included co-operation with the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism and various environmental and animal rights organisations, and accepting help from the public.

The council thanked the "many South Africans" who had made offers to help feed the animals, and singled out for special praise West Coast farmer Peter Pentz, satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys and Aquila private game reserve owner Searl Derman, who all provided fodder and other special feed during the past fortnight.

It ascribed the environmental deterioration to an "exponential" increase in the rabbit population, combined with a "marked" lack of rainfall. "These factors have resulted in the natural vegetation being unable to recover. Robben Island has no natural water source and the vegetation relies solely on rainfall for regrowth."

The museum was working with the various parties, including government departments, the scientific community and environmental and other non-government groups to "ensure best environmental practice", it added, and confirmed culling programmes as "a necessary imperative". "The
ongoing culling programme includes the rabbits, whose population is extremely high, the remaining feral cats, and the fallow deer. The rats will also be eradicated."

Gina van Niekerk of Boston, who went to the island yesterday, said she and other tourists in their group had been horrified to see a young buck dying in front of them. "It was a little one, a baby, and it was just standing there shivering. It was dying, and the other tourists were saying they just couldn't believe what they were seeing and that they'd never go there again," she said.

SPCA inspector Kira Joshua, who visited the island urgently last week in response to the first reports of animal starvation by the Cape Argus, said it was unfortunate that there was neither a vet nor a gun on the island to euthanise stricken animals. She planned to visit the island on Friday and would determine the cause of any deaths.

Sandile Memela, spokesman for Dr Pallo Jordan, who has political responsibility for the museum, told the Cape Argus that the minister was "of course aware and deeply concerned" about the environmental issue. "However, the ministry is not in a position to directly intervene in the affairs because there is a management team that reports to council. "But as the responsible authority, we will not hesitate to take any necessary action that will not only make the management team and the council do their work better but restore the integrity of Robben Island Museum."

South Africa: Robben Island's Rabbits to Be Culled

Cape Argus (Cape Town)
October 15, 2008  http://allafrica.com/stories/200810151014.html

Robben Island Museum's new management team has decided to deal decisively with the European rabbit catastrophe devastating the island ecology. The popular tourist attraction will be closed for two weeks in November when most of the estimated 10 000 European rabbits on the island will be culled - partly to avoid their possibly "harrowing" death later in the summer through starvation and lack of water.

The rabbit population has reached "plague proportions", according to one observer, and has severely damaged the island's natural vegetation after the previous management regime allowed rabbit numbers to soar virtually unchecked.

An unspecified small number of rabbits will be kept on the island, a World Heritage Site, for historical reasons, as these animals were first introduced by European sailors in the 17th century for food. The island's management says a "sustainable" population will be maintained after the cull and kept in check in the long term through a sterilisation programme.

Because many of the rabbits have become quite tame through feeding over the past months, they are likely to be caught quite easily and will be individually euthanased. But those not able to be caught will probably end up being shot. The local branch of the SPCA, which has been closely involved in the decision, says a cull and sterilisation programme is "the most humane and rational approach".

SPCA chief executive Allan Perrins said the SPCA had not found it easy to support the cull: "We committed ourselves to finding the most humane and conservation-worthy solution and had hoped it would be a non-lethal one, but this is unfortunately not possible."

The SPCA would work closely with island staff to ensure the rabbit removal was done "in the most humane way possible". "We will ensure that animals are handled in a manner to limit stress and that rabbit warrens are also checked to ensure that offspring are not abandoned," Perrins said.

The island's two-week closure, from November 1 to 16, will also be used to do essential maintenance work that will include repairing and replacing tourist buses, and refurbishing the island's vessels.

Announcing the cull on Tuesday, interim chief executive Seelan Naidoo described the decision as "very difficult". "However, there are no other alternatives available to restore ecological balance on Robben Island and to save important heritage sites from further degradation," he said. Work would be done by Robben Island Museum staff in partnership with veterinary experts from the SPCA, the State Vet and other qualified practitioners and volunteers.

Naidoo said the decision to take "immediate action to avert an ecological crisis on the Island as a result of rabbit overpopulation" had followed an intensive consultation process with, among others, animal welfare experts, animal rights groups, vets and nature conservation officials.

While the precise number of rabbits was not known, the current population was so large that it threatened to permanently damage the island's sensitive vegetation and also posed a serious threat to other fauna species, both alien and indigenous. "They also threaten historical buildings and heritage sites on the island. "Unchecked, the large number of rabbits in an environment without much natural water will result in the harrowing death of many rabbits through starvation and thirst over the coming dry season."

Rabbit problem closes South Africa's prison island

October 15, 2008 CNN.com 

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) -- South African authorities are closing Robben Island for two weeks in November to try to get rid of thousands of rabbits that have overrun the windswept island where Nelson Mandela spent so many years in prison. South Africa's former president was imprisoned on Robben Island for 18 years and it's one of the country's most famous tourist sites.

Robben Island Museum interim chief executive Seeland Naidoo says there is no alternative but to implement a "humane culling program" in conjunction with local animal welfare groups. He says there are so many rabbits they threaten to permanently damage the island's sensitive vegetation and its historical buildings.

Stop Rabbit Culling on Robben Island, Cape Town

Started: October 17, 2008  Care2 petition site

We the undersigned are horrified about the rabbit genocide on Robben Island. Why do 10,000 rabbits have to die because of Cape Nature's previous mismanagement of Robben Island's wildlife?

There are other options that you blatantly ignore! Sanctuaries and volunteers are happy and very willing to have the rabbits spayed and removed from the island to save their lives. Shame on the SPCA to support this cruelty! I hope tourists visiting SA, Cape Town, will boycott a visit to Robben Island. Why would they be interested in visiting an "Island of Death"?

Shame on you Cape Nature! You are the "con" in conservationist. Shame on you SPCA! You should help and protect animals and not catch and kill!

Note: The "culling program" began on November 1, 2008.  Just over 500 signatures were gathered in two weeks for this petition.  Previous news articles reported estimates of 5,000 rabbits on the Island and because of human mismanagement most will be put to death.  Not to mention the suffering and starvation of other wildlife fighting to stay alive.

February 5, 2010 Clean kills in rabbit cull on Robben Island

Comment: What a tragic situation, one created by humans. So much suffering and now decimation of the innocent in an attempt to restore the natural ecosystem.

More: Rabbits overrun Robben Island, South Africa - world graph; natural environment in state of crisis

Ōkunoshima Island, Japan — Rabbit Island

August 30, 2017 (From Care2 Causes 4 animal-dominated islands you probably shouldn’t visit)

This is where the “why shouldn’t I visit?” gets a bit more complicated. The island, full of rabbits, encourages tourists to visit, take pictures and spread the word. The island itself used to house a chemical weapons factory during WWII. As for why the rabbits exist en masse, they may have arrived to test the chemical weapons — perhaps were left there by a teacher in the 1970s. No one is really certain.

Unfortunately, the serious rise in tourism — mostly due to the adorable photos and videos shared online — is threatening the very animals that people are so enthusiastic about. Tourists feed the rabbits, despite official signs warning them not to — and it’s a serious problem.Tourists often feed the rabbits unhealthy food, which sickens them and increases their reliance on humans. It’s also led to a population boom that is destroying the local ecosystem. When bad weather keeps tourists away, the rabbits can’t eat what they’ve come to depend on.

“Of the 728 rabbits that we counted on the island, 28 percent had visible injuries or illnesses,” Margo DeMello, program director for the nonprofit the Animals and Society Institute, reported to TakePart. “The percentage grew to 50 percent in the areas of the island closest to humans. ‘The more humans interfered, the sicker and more injured the rabbits appeared to be,’ she said.”

Read more on our Nature/Human Impact page

Man is nature's sole mistake. W. S. Gilbert