Rabbit Advocacy Animal Matters
Bunnies are hazardous, UVic warns
They're cute, but they spread disease, and university wants to cut population
The bunnies that hop around the University of Victoria campus might look like pets, but they're really a health hazard, university officials warn.
Feral rabbits can spread disease, bite the hands that feed them and cause injuries to athletes, UVic's campus planning and sustainability director Neil Connelly said yesterday. Connelly is spearheading a campaign to reduce the campus rabbit population by changing the way people think about the creatures.
"At this point, we are focusing on non-lethal methods, and especially keeping the rabbits away from athletic fields and gardens," said Connelly, a member of a committee developing a rabbit management plan.
The university has become a dumping ground for people who no longer want the animals as pets, and the problem is made worse because students and others on campus feed them, Connelly said. Recent food left out for the rabbits included wieners, pita bread, vegetable patties and onions, none of which make up a healthy rabbit diet, and the leftovers are attracting rats.
The university's first line of attack is an education campaign. Posters, brochures and bookmarks will remind students that rabbit abandonment is illegal and that campus wildlife should not be fed, petted or harassed by dogs.
UVic is also asking Greater Victoria municipalities to toughen pet-abandonment bylaws and to consider banning the sale of unspayed and unneutered rabbits, except to licensed breeders.
The university will plant thorny and indigenous plants that do not make cushy nesting sites or tasty snacks, Connelly said.
Erika Paul, Victoria SPCA animal protection officer, said it is already an offence under provincial law and the Criminal Code to abandon an animal in distress. However, it is often difficult to collect enough evidence for charges, and education is a good option, she said.
People need to realize the hazards and terror a domestic animal will experience when it is abandoned in the wild, Paul said. Domestic rabbits do not have the instincts to avoid natural predators, she said.
Paul also applauded the idea of a ban on the sale of unneutered animals.
City of Victoria spokeswoman Katie Josephson said Victoria deals with rabbits through the animal-control bylaw. "But we only get about 12 calls a year. It's not a significant issue from the animal-control perspective," she said.
If the city received a request from UVic to ban the sale of unneutered rabbits, council would probably consider it, Josephson said.
September 6, 2008
Re: Bunnies are hazardous, Uvic warns. This irresponsible and sensational news headline is totally unworthy and has no basis in fact. Did the reporter ask Mr. Connelly what diseases the rabbits spread and whether there had been any studies of deceased rabbits on campus? Was he asked what health hazards these bunnies pose? Of course not.
Comments like these should be an embarrassment to an institute of higher learning. Are other species at risk because they may "cause injury" to students? Lethal methods provide no solution and won't prevent future irresponsible human action such as releasing unwanted pets onto campus.
Correspondence to Rabbit Advocacy indicates that there is concern for these rabbits and their future. Let's hope the officials are listening.
Comment: The above letter was also sent to The Ring at UVic and other media outlets. Don’t forget to send yours and be sure to contact UVic. Some contacts:
Don't buy Neil Connelly's fictitious statements to the media. It does a great disservice to these critters and printing such rubbish is equally reckless. Excerpt from one letter we received:
Your focus should be on the community becoming educated in responsible pet 'ownership' and not placing the blame on the rabbits as being 'dangerous' vectors for disease. Furthermore, if this is the case, perhaps you should alert every worldwide concerned parent of potential students that your University is not a safe place for their children to gain an education. Fact, Mr. Connelly, not fear.
Control rabbits, don't kill them
The rabbits have been part of UVic's branding for many years. Everyone agrees that the bunnies are domesticated when they arrive at the university and that this continues as they are fed. Regardless of the education program, most people will ignore the call not to feed them, because they will see that as an offence under animal control legislation by knowingly bringing suffering or harm to an animal.
Many organic products exist which target the rabbits' fear response. The products use scents of predator urine to deter bunnies from a given area. The cost of this product to control rabbits on the sport fields would be a small investment to avoid a rabbit cull.
Excellent examples of large organizations dealing with a feral animal population are provided by both CFB Esquimalt and CFB Halifax. The committee set up to address the feral cat population at both bases came up with a plan that saw every department on each base contribute funds, which were used to spay and neuter the feral cats. Some were released back into the areas on the bases and others put up for adoption. Representatives from each base negotiated a lower cost to perform the operations with local vets. I know, because I was one of the committee members.
Comment: Research involving the modification of plants that would make rabbits sterile is being carried out at institutions such as Murdoch University, Australia.
Misinformation on bunny 'hazard'
As someone who has kept rabbits for many years, I am perplexed by the article "Bunnies are hazardous, UVic warns" (Sept. 6).
While I support UVic's efforts to curb its rabbit population and wholeheartedly oppose the abandonment of any species of pet, I am not aware of the "hazardous diseases" Neil Connelly claims are carried by rabbits.
Unlike dogs and cats, rabbits do not require immunization to combat infectious diseases.
No immunizations are required to transport rabbits across the border or to import them into Canada or the U.S. - simply a vet check. Other than the extremely rare tularemia, the contention that feral rabbits "spread disease," implying transferability to humans, is without basis. And while all mammals can contract rabies, it's almost nonexistent in rodent and lagomorph (rabbit) populations.
Raccoons, skunks and bats are the most common carriers.
Additionally, the suggestion to ban the sale of unspayed and unneutered rabbits "except to licensed breeders" begs the question as to how this could be accomplished. The breeders of any other species (dogs, cats) in the Greater Victoria area are not required to be "licensed."
As we have seen with the increase of spaying and neutering in these species, public education is the key, not simply more legislation in the form of "licensing."
We could start the education process with the spread of more accurate information.
Comment: UVic is concerned about its reputation! Working together and as an individual will help save the rabbits. Over the years we've corresponded with the University regarding information received from students, past and present, as well as from staff, that rabbits are being "culled." We've heard that "eradication" is done when there is a break in studies, with fewer students on campus. We've received the standard p.r. responses from the University. Please continue to speak out on this issue. Your voice helps in saving lives.