Rabbit Advocacy Animal Matters


Salt Spring woman finds home for UVic rabbits 

July 14, 2010  By Sean McIntyre - Gulf Islands Driftwood

Just over a week ago, Salt Spring’s Susan Vickery had loads of good intentions and a rough plan to rescue some of the rabbits that have overtaken part of the University of Victoria campus. 

Thanks to an outpouring of support from donors on Vancouver Island, across Canada, the United States and as far away as the United Kingdom, she’s now got more than $60,000 and space to build an animal sanctuary on a donated Saanich Peninsula acreage. 

“How good is that?” she said over the phone on Monday. “Has the community ever been responding . . . that’s a lot of money.” A few days earlier, during a tour of her home/animal care facility, Vickery was already ecstatic about the $10,000 she’d received in online pledges. 

The UVic bunnies have hopped in and out of headlines in recent years amidst debate on how to manage the cuddly critters. 

The latest tally pegs the university’s rabbit population at anywhere between 1,000 and 1,500 animals. The thriving herd is attributed to people who felt the university’s sprawling green spaces offered an ideal place to abandon unwanted pets. 

“Of course, the rabbits are only being rabbits. It’s not their fault that they’re here: people caused the problem,” said Vickery, who co-ordinates the Earth Animal Rights’ UVic Feral Rabbit Pilot Project. Vickery’s project took on a whole new significance in late June when the university announced its intention to cull, sterilize or relocate the campus’ rabbits. 

News that a preliminary group of UVic rabbits had found sanctuary on Salt Spring travelled among the university’s staff and students. The media soon got hold of the story and the donations began to trickle in.

Early Monday, Vickery learned that a group known as the Fur-Bearer Defenders had contributed $50,000 to the pilot project. Another call, later that morning, came from a farmer on the Saanich Peninsula who offered long-term accommodation for the rabbits on land near the Butchart Gardens. 

“When the university speaks, people are listening; even if nobody likes what it’s saying, people are still listening,” she said. “A lot of people are very unhappy about [the cull] and they want the university to take another route.” 

Vickery has operated Earth Animal Rights as a registered charity since 2001. Up until last week it housed a few dozen rabbits, some roosters and a couple of cats. Those among the menagerie of rescued and recovered animals have learned to coexist peacefully under their keeper’s watchful eye. Even the dog, Cedar, knows there’s a line that must never be crossed. 

As if accustomed to the inevitable question about the impact escapees can have on the local landscape and gardens, Vickery notes that every rabbit at her sanctuary is spayed or neutered as soon as possible.

The first batch of rabbits Vickery received from UVic has already been to see an island veterinarian and are now being kept in cages approved by the provincial government. Most of her rabbits will be relocated to the Saanich acreage once land-use negotiations are concluded. 

“I’m a responsible person, I’ve been doing this for years,” she said. “Rabbit breeders on the island who do not spay or neuter are the real threat.” Pet owners seeking to “set their animals free” are another major cause for concern. 

In a recent letter sent to the Salt Spring Island Conservancy by the province, the Ministry of Environment outlines the potential harm that feral rabbits can cause to the local environment and gardens. 

Much of the problem, the letter states, is due to “people who have the attitude that these are cute animals that are not causing any harm.  “These behaviours and beliefs can complicate any effort to manage the situation as efforts to control rabbit populations are often met with resistance.” 

The government letter came in response to a conservancy query for information on how to manage feral rabbits and non-native species.

Whereas the majority of domestic rabbits are European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculu), rabbits commonly spotted hopping alongside island roadways and in gardens are eastern cottontail rabbits (Sylvilagus floridanus), themselves introduced to the Sooke area by hunters in the early 1960s.  

Roughly five years ago, the Salt Spring Island Conservancy established an online wildlife reporting tool as a way to monitor population trends for species such as the eastern cottontail. 

According to Linda Gilkeson, the conservancy’s executive director, this year’s reported sightings are off the charts. “It’s been building and this year we’ve reached critical mass,” she said. 

For more details about Vickery’s relocation campaign, visit www.earthanimalrights.org (link is no longer active) More information about feral rabbits and the island’s non-native rabbit population is available from the conservancy at www.saltspringconservancy.ca. 

Comment by bunnyman: Many twisted individuals (Tom Smith & Co. included) have tried to deny these rabbits a safe, happy life, but justice prevails! Two weeks' time and the rabbits are just about ready to hop into the sanctuaries. Tell me now that 'culling' is the quickest, most efficient method of dealing with wildlife overpopulation. Thanks a million Fur Bearer Defenders, EARS, and all those who have helped make this possible!