Rabbit Advocacy Animal Matters
UVic's feral bunnies up for adoption
CBC News Wednesday, September 2, 2009
The University of Victoria is taking a soft approach to get rid of a warm and fluffy problem — the hundreds of feral bunnies that call the campus home. School administrators are looking for someone to trap and sterilize about 150 of the rabbits and put them up for adoption as part of pilot program.
The rabbits, which come in a variety of colours, appear to be the pet store variety, not the wilder Peter Cottontail sort. According to university staff, however, the lives of the estimated 1,500 campus rabbits can be dangerous, difficult and short, with cars, dogs and the occasional sadistic student bringing things to an abrupt end.
They are also a nuisance, digging holes in sports fields and gnawing their way through gardens in surrounding neighbourhoods, according to Patty Mack, president of the Mount Tolmie Community Association. "They are awfully cute, but it has gone to the point where there are just way too many of them," Mack said.
Carmina Gooch, president of the Rabbit Advocacy Group of B.C., applauded the university for taking a humane approach to rabbit control, unlike the city of Kelowna in B.C.'s southern Interior, which initially responded to its rabbit problem with controversial plan to hire a firm to trap and kill the booming population.
But Gooch said it will be difficult to find people willing to adopt fully grown rabbits as pets. "I just don't know how realistic putting rabbits captured from the outside into homes will be. Most people who get a rabbit generally want a baby rabbit," Gooch said. A better idea would be to create a rabbit sanctuary, Gooch said.
If the UVic pilot project is successful, it will expand the program to its entire campus rabbit population. But if the pilot project doesn't work, the university says in its request for proposals, it may have to resort to lethal means to control the critters.
Comment: Under no circumstance should these rabbits be imprisoned in cages once they are caught. Rabbits are prey animals that frighten easily, and are not suitable for the average, inexperienced person to take on. The Rabbit Advocacy Group has some of the Kelowna rabbits in our sanctuary, where they are safe and living as freely as possible, without being stressed by the noise and activity of a busy household. A number of remarks to the news story reflected the low calibre intelligence and insensitivity to the plight of the campus rabbits, who through no fault of their own, are the victims of human ignorance and arrogance. How many times do we have to hear ‘feed them to the poor’ or ‘they make a good stew’?
University of Victoria wants to corral rabbits
Times Colonist, September 1, 2009
A number of erroneous and unproven statements by the University, a tactic designed to create fear-mongering among the public were contained in this story. Excerpt:
Richard Piskor, UVic's director of occupational health, safety and environment, said he is involved in the rabbit situation because of the health and safety concerns the animals pose. "They can carry any and all kinds of things, whether it be parasites, or viral or bacterial disease. We've got such a strong hand-washing campaign going on with H1N1, but I see people taking their little kids to campus and feeding the bunnies and trying to pet them. It just isn't the way to go."
Efforts are focussed on the playing fields because rabbits leave potentially infectious droppings and have been digging burrows that pose a danger of tripping and injury to athletes.
"We've got a fairly significant load of feces on those fields, and we've got athletes who may have cuts or abrasions or whatever else," Piskor said. "They're getting that material into those cuts. It's unnecessarily raising risks for them."
He said rabbit bites are another ongoing problem. "If somebody gets bitten they need to seek medical attention, they may need stitches, they need a tetanus shot."
Comment: If the rabbits are so hazardous and potentially full of disease, why would the University take the risk of having them "adopted" into homes? Why, too, have previous communications from Neil Connelly, Director of Campus Planning & Sustainability stated that "the rabbits of UVic are not pets, they're wildlife." Just doesn't make sense and leaves the public confused.
These are European rabbits and their offspring, the very same ones sold by breeders and pet stores and abandoned by their “owners.” Wild rabbits include Cottontails and Hares.
UVic takes direct aim at bunny problem
Victoria News - September 02, 2009
Talking hasn’t worked, so the University of Victoria is going to try trapping as a way to control its burgeoning bunny problem. A year-long promotional blitz asking students to stop feeding the rabbits and the public to stop abandoning the critters on campus failed to stem the growing numbers of wild rabbits on campus.
Now UVic has put out a request for proposals for a pilot project to trap, neuter and adopt out 150 wild rabbits living around the playing fields by December.
“Our messages were simple, please don’t feed the animals, please don’t harrass them and please don’t abandon more rabbits,” said Richard Piskor, UVic’s director of occupational health and safety. “It was pretty straightforward messaging and we’re still seeing the numbers increase.”
With an estimated 1,000 rabbits living on campus, separated into groups of about 100 each, the bunnies are posing human health concerns, especially on the campus’ playing fields. “We’ve had people stepping in those burrow holes. Even on the artificial turf, we’ve got problems of a fairly significant amount of rabbit feces,” Piskor said, which raises the risk of infection to athletes who fall and cut themselves on the carpet.
The campus is no Elysian Fields for the bunnies either, said Sara Dubois, manager of wildlife services for the B.C. SPCA.
“There’s a lot of predators up there ... you have owls and hawks taking out the rabbits,” she said. “These rabbits are not wild rabbits. They have no real instincts when it comes to being around a predator like that. Cars are one of their biggest predators as well.” Living in such high density, the rabbits are prone to fighting amongst themselves and spreading infection as well, she said.
While Dubois hopes the pilot succeeds in finding new homes for some rabbits, she said the SPCA already struggles to adopt out the rabbits it takes in. The university says it will only move to lethal means of bringing the numbers down if non-lethal options don’t work.
Dubois said the SPCA will “acknowledge,” but neither support nor condemn lethal means once non-lethal options have been tried out. It will insist that any lethal program be conducted according to veterinary guidelines for humane euthanasia.
Comment: Considering the large population of rabbits on campus and UVic’s lack of response in addressing the matter in a humane matter years ago, and the current stringent requirements of the RFP #427 Feral Rabbit Pilot Project, it wouldn’t be surprising if lethal means are ultimately employed in reducing the population.
Who tamed UVic's rabbit population?
Anupreet Sandhu Bhamra, Vancouver - From Thursday's Globe and Mail Sept. 03, 2009
They are fluffy and cute and spend most of their time nibbling veggies, digging holes and reproducing. And it's precisely these activities that have created a distressing situation for the University of Victoria, overrun with feral rabbits.
The university is starting a pilot project to trap, sterilize and adopt at least 150 rabbits from an area that includes its athletic fields – and is asking for proposals to do it in a humane way.
“We need to reduce the population,” said Richard Piskor, the university's health, safety and environment director. The university isn't sure where the rabbits came from, but it's believed they're descended from abandoned pets. Over the years, the population has exploded.
Last fall, the university launched a campaign to educate people not to feed, harass or abandon rabbits on the campus. It put up posters and signs, inserted bookmarks in textbooks and placed ads in newspapers, but the problem continued.
The university's chief concern is damage to the playing fields. Several athletes have been injured on grounds littered with rabbit feces and damaged by burrows. “Any athlete that slips [and] falls has an opportunity to get infected,” Mr. Piskor said. Rabbits can carry diseases such as rabies and salmonellosis. The university is also not happy that people continue to feed the bunnies. Mr. Piskor said the leftovers attract rats.
While the university will experiment with trapping, sterilizing and adopting the rabbits, a local veterinarian said his offer to find a solution was met with so much red tape he didn't pursue it.
Nick Shaw, who runs three animal hospitals in Victoria, proposed capturing the males, doing vasectomies and then releasing them. “We wanted to conduct a bit of a trial program,” Dr. Shaw said. Male rabbits are territorial and don't allow other males to come into their territory, he said, so a sterilized male rabbit would help keep other rabbits away.
Dr. Shaw said the university's proposal to sterilize the rabbits and put them up for adoption is not practical. “[It'll be] very difficult to find homes for 150 rabbits individually,” he said.
The university has the support of the British Columbia SPCA, which admits it won't be an easy task. “But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try,” said Geoff Urton, animal welfare co-ordinator for BCSPCA. Mr. Urton said it's illegal to abandon pet rabbits, which could starve or be attacked by coyotes or dogs.
At least one rabbit has been the victim of student cruelty. Mr. Piskor said the rabbit was found with an arrow through its ear. It was treated for the injury.
Mr. Urton said UVic is taking a good approach, but said municipalities need to act also. He referred to Kelowna, B.C., which has a bylaw that every rabbit sold in the city must be spayed or neutered. “The city of Victoria needs to step up,” Mr. Urton said.
The Kelowna bylaw also prohibits the feeding of rabbits in parks or public spaces, and requires property owners to clean up problem breeding sites, such as wood piles. Rabbit owners must keep the animals contained.
September 4, 2009 Rabbit Advocacy’s letter to UVIC officials
Re: Rabbits on Uvic campus and RFP Feral Rabbit Pilot Project
The Rabbit Advocacy Group of BC is dedicated to addressing and taking action on behalf of rabbits in society. I have visited the University of Victoria on many occasions over the years and while the rabbit population fluctuates, the estimate of roughly 1000-1500 is undoubtedly causing damage to the sports fields and gardens. However, this is due to the lack of simple and humane measures that could have been implemented years ago not only by the University, but by the municipalities, and other key stakeholders.
Instead, according to information we've received from a number of students and some staff, lethal action has been carried out in the past due to a perceived overpopulation. A significant decline was noticed earlier this year around the student residences, indicating a "cull" had taken place. Disease, natural causes, predator activity, rat traps, and being hit by cars, all combined, would not account for the sudden drop.
A Request for Proposals by the University for a pilot project in which a minimum of 150 rabbits would be trapped, sterilized, and "adopted" into homes, with the objective being to provide viable solutions to the long-term management of rabbits residing on campus, has been sent out.
While we would all like to see a humane solution to this issue, I have to ask why it's requested the rabbits be placed in homes, and why sanctuary solutions or large group placements are not considered appropriate. And why ear notching as opposed to a tattoo? Ear notching is generally used if an animal is being released into the environment, not when being "adopted" as a "pet." A number of media releases by the University's communications give the false impression that the rabbits are disease-ridden and "can carry all kinds of things." I don't believe the health status of the rabbits has ever been checked, and the likelihood of anybody contracting a sickness from a rabbit is virtually nil. Even a bite does not require a tetanus shot. This is just fear-mongering. If the rabbits are so hazardous why adopt them?
On the one hand UVic claims the rabbits are wildlife and to not feed or harrass them, yet these same rabbits are supposed to be adopted as pets? Contradictory information like this is confusing to the public, and reflects poorly as an institute of higher learning.
Several options, like Dr. Shaw's, to provide vasectomies to the rabbits, would seem to be a more viable and cost-effective solution. Unfortunately, the amount of red tape discouraged Dr. Shaw from submitting a written proposal.
Trap, neuter, return (TNR) to keep feral cat populations in check is a proven humane method endorsed by groups like Alley Cat Allies, and could easily be applied to rabbits. Also, contraception vaccines for horses, deer, geese, and squirrels are proving successful. Scientists have also developed a feed that sterilizes deer, and looks promising for rabbits.
Municipalities must be responsible in creating new bylaws that would restrict or eliminate the indiscriminate breeding and selling of unsterilized rabbits. Pet stores, 4-H members, backyard, hobby, professional breeders, whatever the source, it has to be controlled and enforced. Perhaps some heavy taxation is in order. Unfortunately, people don't take the responsibilities of pet guardianship seriously enough or they just aren't aware of the commitment involved. Rabbits are usually always bought on impulse for young children, and just as quickly abandoned (unneutered) into the community, usually within months. Spay/neuter programs and education are beneficial in reaching a goal of a low or "no-kill" society.
While it will be challenging to have the rabbits humanely removed and rehomed, the support is there. The situation was created by humans and it's up to us to do what's right and what's expected of a civilized society. Surely, nobody wants a repeat like that of Kelowna.
Comment: It’s a good idea to send copies of letters to the media, humane societies, government, and any other parties that may have an interest. A number of people who have contacted us are very worried that UVic administration will opt for lethal measures for the rabbits. Please be a voice for these creatures. The university maintains that our long and harsh winter accounted for the decline in rabbits earlier this year. Certainly the elements are a factor in survival, and can be unforgiving. However, the rumours surrounding "culls" persist.
A Victoria Times Colonist editorial referred to the rabbits as "pesky mammals" and further added that the only sensible answer was to have "sharpshooters" carry out the deed. Like other readers who couldn't believe this hard-hearted position, we weren't surprised. The same opinion was espoused about ten years ago when Victoria General Hospital hired a "hunter" to stalk and shoot the rabbits under the cover of darkness. Letters selected for publication by the newspaper are those that tend to support its position.
Note: WP's letter on September 7/09 presented an opposing view. However, more than half the letter was plagiarized from Carmina Gooch's letter to Kelowna Council in 2008 and posted on Rabbit Advocacy's website.
Carmina Gooch, president of Rabbit Advocacy Group of B.C., wrote several sentences that appeared in the letter "Better solutions than killing rabbits," posted on the Times Colonist website on Monday. Gooch's original letter was sent to a Kelowna website last year, and was also posted to the Rabbit Advocacy website, www.rabbitadvocacy.com. The sentences in the letter on the Times Colonist website should have been attributed to Gooch.
Comment: The pilot project is workable, and although there are many different views, the bottom line is that there's no reason why the rabbits’ lives shouldn't be considered as equal to ours. We cannot keep decimating every species simply because we can. The Rabbit Advocacy Group is communicating with the university on both short and long term solutions. As previously stated, individuals working together with unity of purpose in achieving a common objective will yield a positive outcome for these rabbits and help the university in achieving a "larger scale feral rabbit management strategy." Re-releasing the rabbits after being sterilized could be a humane, practical and cost-effective solution. Simply removing the rabbits will create a vacuum effect, making room for others to move in. It is hopeful that the university will pursue sterilizations with the veterinarians willing to help.
There's no single answer or easy fix to this situation and unless human behaviour and attitudes change, we'll be discussing the same thing in years to come. The hundreds of rabbits trying to survive on campus is striking, with many of them grazing right alongside of busy roads. Pictures from September, 2009
“A fresh obligation is laid on each of us to do as much good as we possibly can to all creatures in all sorts of circumstances." Albert Schweitzer
September 18, 2009 The RFP deadline has passed, and a decision is expected by the University next week. One very good proposal has been received, and Rabbit Advocacy is hoping it will be accepted. Carmina Gooch was quoted in this week’s Charlatan, “UVic tackles a furry little problem” as saying that in order to help prevent this from reoccurring, municipalities must enact bylaws that would ban the sale of unsterilized rabbits. There are 13 different Victoria-area municipalities, with two of them, Saanich and Oak Bay, surrounding UVic’s campus. With a number of pragmatic and humane strategies presented to the University, there shouldn’t be a need to resort to lethal measures. However, we’ll have to see. The BC SPCA has said that if some type of “euthanasia” method is entertained, they would want to ensure it’s humane.
September 24, 2009 Rabbit Advocacy received news that the only proposal submitted has been tentatively accepted. More to come.
December 8, 2009 A recent trip to the university saw the usual number of rabbits, and only one that was deceased. On our last visit we saw several deceased ones, as well as the remains of a black bunny that had been pecked at by birds. There has been much conjecture as to what happens to the injured rabbits on campus.
It's official, a contract has been signed and the pilot project is expected begin in the near future. A press release with the details will be put out by the communications department of the university later this month.