Rabbit Advocacy Animal Matters
UVic battles bunnies
VICTORIA - University of Victoria staff are taking a final stand against the floppy-eared scoundrels that stalk their demoralized gardeners and ravage one of Canada's best collections of rhododendrons.
Groundskeepers are building a $10,000 fence around the Finnerty Gardens and its famous collection of more than 500 types of rhododendrons. They hope to have 853 metres of black fencing and entrance gates installed by the end of the month.
"The damage just got so bad we've got to sort of take steps to keep them out," said Tony James, the UVic grounds manager. The marauding rabbits on campus may look cute, but they are also a menace.
Groundskeepers are scrambling to prepare the school for an influx of 19,000 students on Sept. 6. It is the busiest time of year, but staff find their fancy landscaping jobs ruined. "They are pretty well digging alongside you," said James, who after 31 years is approaching the tail end of his gardening career.
The University of Victoria and the Victoria General Hospital have been habitual dumping grounds for unwanted pet rabbits.
Patty Pitts, UVic spokesman, also issued a plea from the university Friday: Please don’t abandon any unwanted bunnies on campus where they are already a problem the university expects to consider in the coming weeks.
Pitts said rabbits abandoned on campus fall prey to hawks, eagles and dogs whose owners let them run off leash despite warnings. They also routinely get run over by cars. “A pet rabbit does not live a happy life up here,” said Pitts.
The University of Victoria has a new task force - on rabbits. To some, the fluffy creatures are a scourge on the community, pests hopping across Gordon Head Road from the UVic campus and "invading" residential properties. To others, they're the unofficial mascot of the university.
The number of rabbits heading across Ring Road into neighbouring residential areas is on the rise and at a tipping point, says Gordon Head Road resident Peter Spurr.
Last year a few made their way across, but this year there has been a veritable parade. The rabbits are now in an area three or four lots deep on adjacent streets, said Spurr, who is worried they'll continue their onslaught and "infect the neighbourhood." "UVic is being very irresponsible in allowing the huge rabbit population to affect its neighbours," said Spurr.
Spurr doesn't care why it's happening, or how UVic deals with it, as long as something is done. He doesn't know what a task force can do. "It sounds to me as if it's just a delaying tactic. But I suppose it's something."
The task force was announced Monday, after UVic received a letter from the Mount Tolmie Community Association, complete with photographs of gangs of rabbits. They burrow in lawns, eat gardens, damage irrigation equipment and generally create havoc.
It's a complex problem, with strong feelings on both sides, said Gerald Robson, who is UVic's executive director of facilities management. There have been concerns about potential health issues caused by rabbit feces on campus, he said.
"We haven't had an opportunity to meet with people to fully assess the impact, either negative or positive, that the rabbits are bestowing upon us," Robson said yesterday. "Some people see the rabbits as a problem. Others see them as quite desirable, so it's without a doubt going to be a very sensitive issue."
UVic has never culled the rabbits or conducted a formal discussion about having the creatures shot. Robson said it's premature to say whether that would even be an option considered by the task force. UVic has counted on natural predation, letting nature take its course with the area's many falcons, owls, hawks and off-leash dogs.
The university has long tried to find a way to contain the damage done by the cute creatures, even building a $10,000 fence around the prize-winning rhododendron collection at Finnerty Gardens on campus.
Just how many rabbits call UVic home isn't known, but it's likely at least 1,000. And rabbits being rabbits - females have about five litters per year, with an average of 12 young per litter - the number is in constant fluctuation. The rabbits are not wild, Robson said, but the result of people abandoning domesticated rabbits on campus.
He noticed a large increase in the number of rabbits at UVic after rabbits at Victoria General Hospital were culled by shooting in 1999. The hospital has also had a large and prolific rabbit population.
When the numbers get too large, some of the rabbits are culled, said Suzanne Germaine, spokeswoman for the Vancouver Island Health Authority. That started in 1999 and happens periodically, to keep the population under control. Just who will be on UVic's task force isn't known yet. Robson said they'll have a cross-section of people who are interested in the issue.
Re: Bunnies too fertile for their own good
Most rabbits are bought on impulse with absolutely no understanding as to their care, and subsequently abandoned once they are no longer wanted. Most often people choose to dump them outdoors since that's most convenient. As prolific breeders, a rabbit's gestation period averages 30 days. So it was good news when Petcetera announced with great fanfare earlier this year that they would discontinue selling rabbits in all their BC stores by September 1st, and instead, stock their stores with sterilized rabbits provided by the SPCA. While the good news is that this is true of Lower Mainland stores, the bad news is that breeders are still supplying the stores in the rest of the province with baby bunnies.
Letters and phone calls regarding this issue to both Petcetera and the BC SPCA haven't been responded to. Maybe legislation will help, but one thing is certain, the rabbits always pay the price of human behaviour.
Comment: In May 2008 we received an unconfirmed report that a mass culling (killing spree) of the rabbit population on campus may be imminent. Construction of a new building has people worried about the fate of the bunnies. Previous communications with the university indicate that "rabbit population reductions" have been carried out in the past. According to one source, they've been "culled heavily." It appears that in this instance the rabbits will be relocated to another area on campus. It's up to all of us to watch, report, and bring attention to situations like this. Institutions, corporations, government, and lawmakers - contact them - take action - and persevere.
Part of the reply we received from UVic was that some areas of campus will be off limits to rabbits because of health and safety reasons, to protect heritage plant collections, and to preserve teaching programs related to threatened indigenous plant species. Recognizing that sales of unsterilized rabbits and the abandonment of these creatures is a community issue, the University is in discussions with local organizations and governments.
Re: Eradicating UVic’s Rabbit Population?
The Rabbit Advocacy Group of BC has received an unconfirmed report that a mass culling (read killing spree) of the rabbit population on campus may be imminent. Our understanding is that a task force was set up in September of 2007 to assess and discuss the impacts of the feral European rabbits, and to determine if any action would be taken. Also, our information is that the first culling wave will begin with "sick" rabbits in an area where a new building to be constructed.
Our position on this matter is outlined below.
The superordinate question is whether or not the current rabbit population constitutes a “pest problem". One standard definition of a pest animal is that it causes "serious damage to resources" or an "adverse environmental effect". We firmly believe the University of Victoria's rabbit population does not fall into this category. In fact, the grazing pattern and the saliva of rabbits prevent vegetation from being destroyed by sealing the ends of leaves.
Research and our experience strongly points to the fact that lethal control methods are ineffective, and that only proactive and non-lethal measures yield positive long-lasting results.
The scientific literature from Australia and New Zealand conclude that culls are only effective in the short term and that a reduction in reproductive potential is likely to be the optimal method of control for populations with a high mortality rate. As far as we are able to determine, there is no agreed upon percentage of the population that would need to be sterilized. This would depend on local conditions including access to resources and mortality from natural predation and other causes.
Research material indicates that one of the major problems with feral populations is that they are opportunistic - other animals move into the vacated area when part of a population is removed.
Unless there are regulations controlling the breeding and sale of unsterilized rabbits, the cycle will continue. Of course one cannot prevent irresponsible human behaviour and the dumping of their "pet", but legislation is one tool that can be utilized. Education is another.
We suggest that the University of Victoria work cooperatively with animal welfare organizations and the public in finding a humane and compassionate solution, one in keeping with 21st century values. Previous communications indicate that “rabbit population reductions” have been carried out in the past.
It would be very much appreciated if we could be advised promptly as to the University’s position on this matter, and specifically whether the current rabbit population is in imminent danger of being exterminated.
Rabbit Advocacy Group of BC
Rabbits, Rabbits Everywhere
From: University Business May 2008
TO SAY THE UNIVERSITY OF VICTORIA (British Columbia) has something of a rabbit problem is an understatement. The rabbits are everywhere. They've been there since the 1980s-domestic pets abandoned by their owners, according to some-and they've done what comes naturally: multiply. Females can deliver litters of up to seven offspring at a time, and they can do it four or five times a year. Their offspring can begin reproducing within four months.
The rabbit has even become an unofficial school mascot. Some people think the animals are cute and adorable, but to many in the UVic administration, they are pests.
Their population is growing too fast for the 346-acre campus, wreaking havoc in campus gardens and damaging athletic fields. Maintenance workers routinely remove dozens of deceased rabbits a month.
No one wants to kill the bunnies-that would be a public relations nightmare. So administrators are playing it by ear, hoping someone can come up with a humane way to reduce the rabbit population.
A rabbit roundup, after which the males and females would be segregated to separate pens to live peacefully without mating, is one idea. But this hare-splitting scheme involves capturing what may be thousands of the rascally rabbits. "I'm not sure how realistic that is," notes Director of Campus Planning and Sustainability Neil Connelly. Another thought is to introduce a form of bunny birth control into the rabbits' food so that the population naturally culls itself.
Until someone comes up with a way to make the hare line recede, UVic students and administrators will just have to hope for a hoppy ending. -Tim Goral
Comment: A-Channel News, Victoria, reported on June 24th that residents living near UVic are again complaining about the proliferation of rabbits hopping into their yards and eating their flowers. On our visits to the area we noticed a number of squirrels running around. Are these people going to start whining about these critters, too? It should be noted that while the University professes to have taken a passive approach to the rabbits ("natural" predation, roadkill, off-leash dogs) rat poison boxes are placed in various places around campus. The holes are big enough for other little creatures to fall victim to the poison.
CBC Radio reported on the rabbit situation, August 25th. Seems there's a lot of the same discussion, but no action. Keep the rabbits alive - write to UVic, the media, the City of Victoria, pet stores, humane societies, and the BC SPCA. Preventative actions must be put in place to address the indiscriminate sale of unsterilized rabbits. Lethal control measures are ineffective. If you see anybody dumping their rabbit, take pictures, get a plate number, report it. Don't buy from stores selling live animals. Don't support breeders. Ask the BC SPCA why, as an animal welfare agency, they haven't been outspoken on this issue and why adoptable rabbits are being killed while their business partner, Petcetera, continues to sell them. Talk to the 4-H about the crisis of 'overpopulation', be an educator, and spread the word loud and clear that RABBITS ARE NOT DISPOSABLE COMMODITIES!