Rabbit Advocacy Animal Matters


UVic’s rabbit population facing cull

Victoria - From Tuesday's Globe and Mail

It could be curtains for hundreds of rabbits plaguing the University of Victoria after a pilot project to capture, sterilize and relocate 150 bunnies was a flop.The project ground to a halt just one-third of the way through after it was determined that just a handful of rabbits could be relocated.

Only 51 rabbits were caught by the company in charge, Common Ground, (Susan Vickery) at a cost to UVic of $17,743 – or $348 per rabbit. But animal refuge societies could not accommodate any more rabbits. And efforts to find adoptive homes ran into the restrictions of the B.C. Wildlife Act, which requires special permits to take on any animal born in the wild. In the end, 40 of the 51 rabbits were returned to UVic.

With the pilot project's below-par results and upwards of 1,500 rabbits at UVic approaching breeding season, many of them injured or malnourished, a cull is being seriously considered, said Richard Piskor, the university’s director of occupational health, safety and environment. “Should there be a cull, we would not announce it in advance,” Mr. Piskor said recently. “This is a very emotional topic.”

A cull would most likely be done by trapping the rabbits, followed by veterinarians administering lethal injections, said Sara Dubois, the B.C. SPCA's manager of wildlife services. While the B.C. SPCA doesn't endorse a cull, it may be the only option left, she said.

During the pilot project, rabbit-trapping was “remarkably easy,” Mr. Piskor said. The 51 rabbits were trapped within eight hours, using five traps that contained bedding and food. “They walked right in,” he said.

UVic's bunnies, either dumped by irresponsible adults or descended from abandoned pets, have a short life and painful death, said Ms. Dubois, who recalls rabbits as a problem a decade ago when she was a UVic student.

As chief safety officer, Mr. Piskor is concerned about hazards created by the rabbits. At UVic's sports fields, they leave multiple calling cards in the form of feces and burrows. A high-performance athlete could suffer a career-ending injury by stepping in a rabbit hole, Mr. Piskor said.

Adding fuel to the cull is that, of the trapped rabbits, half of them were one year old or less, indicating high mortality rates. Many had injuries, including missing eyes, torn ears and infections. One had to be euthanized. And almost all were malnourished, Mr. Piskor said.

Then there's the cleanup. Each day about three rabbits are killed by vehicles on UVic's main road. “I really feel for the grounds staff,” Mr. Piskor said.

When Victoria General was overrun with roughly 600 rabbits about a decade ago, it hired a sharpshooter. Today, only about a dozen rabbits surround the hospital, achieved by selective culling. In late 2008, the City of Kelowna also used sharpshooters to cull rabbits in the resort centre. “We don't approve of that,” Ms. Dubois said.

Instead, the B.C. SPCA has been actively lobbying pet stores to sell only sterilized rabbits. On March 27, Victoria's New Petcetera had four dwarf rabbits for sale, costing $50 to $65. None were sterilized.

Pets West, also in Victoria, had one rabbit, Razzle Dazzle, spayed and from the SPCA. She had been abandoned in Mount Doug Park, another popular rabbit repository. Once she's sold for $30, the money will be donated to the SPCA, said Pets West assistant manager Danielle Molyneaux.

But for five days before Easter and two days after the holiday, rabbits, which can live up to 12 years, won't be available at Pets West. “Ninety per cent of people who buy rabbits at Easter get rid of them,” said Ms. Molyneaux, who has worked nearly 11 years at the pet store, preceded by seven years at the SPCA.

Adults buy them for children but the novelty wears off, and, considered a disposable item, the animals end up in places like UVic. “Don't get rabbits for Easter,” Ms. Dubois advised.

UVic's team is hopping to it, investigating many options including ways to incorporate a feeding program, sterilization and release program and possibly a cull. It hopes to have a long-term bunny management plan finalized by the end of the summer.

Comment: In speaking with several reporters, Carmina Gooch has suggested that UVic officials have favoured exterminating the campus rabbits, simply because lethal control is perceived as cost-effective and a “quick fix.” In 2008, for example, LGL Environmental Research Associates provided the university with information as to the pros and cons of live-trapping or shooting the rabbits to “meet the objectives of population reduction.”  Meanwhile, there has been tremendous support for humane alternatives like vasectomies for the male bunnies or TNR.  Veterinarians have offered their services at minimal cost.  Contraception vaccines are also being developed and could become part of a long-term humane management plan.   

Nowadays, control methods of any animal, whether they be deer, wolves, feral cats, or rabbits are becoming increasingly contentious and unacceptable.  Instead of destroying every species and their habitat, how about some enlightened and compassionate choices for a change?

University of Victoria mulls rabbit-free zone 

By Judith Lavoie, Times Colonist - March 31, 2010  

 A bunny-free zone surrounding the University of Victoria campus is the latest vision for rabbit management at UVic. The proposal is for a much-reduced population of healthier rabbits living in the area inside the ring road.

But plans will not be finished until fall and some groups are accusing the university of promoting a cull without actively looking at options such as a mass spay and neuter clinic on campus. Tom Smith, UVic's facilities management executive director, who is responsible for the long-range management plan, denied suggestions of a cull conspiracy.

He said lessons have been learned from a pilot project that was supposed to see the animals sterilized and relocated. It was abandoned after rabbit sanctuaries could not be found to take 40 sterilized rabbits.

One of the problems was provincial regulations that regard abandoned domestic rabbits as wildlife and require permits to take them. "There will always be rabbits on campus, but we need to identify rabbit-control zones, where we have a sustainable number of rabbits and we need to create rabbit-free zones around the periphery of the campus," Smith said.

One possibility is rabbit feeding stations in the areas where the animals are allowed in reduced numbers, he said. That could solve the problem of malnourished and sick bunnies, which became evident during the pilot project. "If there are feeding stations, we hope it would make them stop feeding on the vegetation and then we could put up with the digging and destruction," Smith said.

Latest counts estimate between 1,100 and 1,200 rabbits on campus, but a baby boom is underway, just in time for Easter.

Biologists will help establish the best number for rabbit-control zones, Smith said. "If we make it into quadrants, is 400 a reasonable number?" he asked. "We would start with a high number and work down." Most remaining rabbits would be sterilized, leaving only a small breeding population, he said.

If sanctuaries are willing to take sterilized rabbits, the university will explain how to obtain provincial permits, but otherwise, a cull will be considered. "We need to reduce the population significantly," Smith said. If a cull is necessary, the plan would have to be approved by the Environment Ministry and B.C. SPCA and would involve lethal injection, not guns, Smith said.

A 2008 report to the university by LGL Ltd., Environmental Research Associates, said trapping may be "a necessary precursor to a shooting program." The report envisages high-velocity air rifles, used at night, but Smith said guns will not be part of his plan.

However, some local veterinarians say there does not seem to have been a concerted effort by the university to organize a mass spay-neuter program on campus. Susan Vickery of Common Ground, the company contracted to run the pilot program, said trap-and-release was not seriously considered. "I think they were thinking about a cull right from the beginning," Vickery said.

Carmina Gooch of the Rabbit Advocacy Group of B.C. said the pilot program had a lot of community support and she hopes the university will build on it rather than move to a cull. Trap, sterilize and release programs have proved successful, Gooch said. "They can set up clinics on campus and make it easy."

April 3, 2010 The possibility of imminent lethal control measures by UVic administrators has created a lot of public furor.  It is the feeling that the availability of humane solutions is not something the university is or has been actively pursuing.  A Facebook Group, UVic Buns Management has been created with the intent to pursue non-lethal solutions for the abandoned 'pet' rabbits and their offspring residing on university grounds. http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/group.php?gid=108954402461471&ref=mf

An online petition "Stop Slaughter of U of Victoria Bunnies" and sponsored by: http://www.uvicbunnies.org was created just today.  Please join the hundreds who have already spoken out, united and signed!  Letters to UVic officials are also urgently needed.  Don't forget to contact the media and the BC SPCA, as well.  

Ms. Gayle Gorrill, Vice-President
Finance and Operations
250-721-7018 vpfo@uvic.ca 
Dr. David Turpin, President
250-721-7002 dturpin@uvic.ca 
Tom Smith, Facilities Management
250-721-7592 tomfmgt@uvic.ca
Board of Governors usec3@uvic.ca 
Patty Pitts, Communications ppitts@uvic.ca

Carmina Gooch's interview with Sean Leslie, of CKNW's The World Today Weekend on the UVic rabbit situation will be broadcast on Easter Sunday, April 4th, sometime between 3-6 pm.  She says that killing the rabbits would be sending a very poor example to our kids.  After all, humans created the situation, and employing lethal methods every time we feel we've got a problem, shows a callous disregard for life.  She further adds that the recent construction has displaced many of the rabbits.  UVic decision-makers ought to demonstrate ethical principles and viable humane solutions, rather than doing what's quick and convenient.  That's what leadership is.    

Two things awe me most, the starry sky above me and the moral law within me. Immanual Kant 1724-1804 

Easter's bunny blues

April 2, 2010 Kyle Slavin Saanich News

There’s no denying they’re cute. Even the guy heading the rabbit control project at the University of Victoria says his job would be much simpler if he was dealing with a more repulsive animal. 

“There are mixed feelings in the community about managing the population of rabbits in the community – and it’s unfortunate,” Tom Smith, executive director of facilities management said. “They would be a lot easier to control if they were rats, for example ... Fewer people would have a problem with it.” But humans have had a hand in the university’s rabbit problem dating back almost two decades, when the animals first became popular in pet stores. 

“This problem started with people dumping unwanted rabbits on campus,” Smith said matter-of-factly. Even after two years of campaigns deterring people from dropping off their hard-to-manage pets, it’s still happening. 

A recent pilot project aimed at capturing, sterilizing and relocating rabbits failed to get the rabbits off campus. But -- among the things the school learned from the project -- is that there are sterile rabbits on their grounds. “That proves people are still abandoning them here.” 

Penny Stone, branch manager of the Victoria SPCA said one reason could be that owners don’t grow as attached to a rabbit as they do with a dog or a cat. “People see them as expendable. They’re the first throwaway pet. It is very sad,” she said.

The SPCA and most pet stores have acknowledged UVic’s problem stems from an uncontrolled population of unwanted pets, Stone said. Many Greater Victoria stores don’t allow rabbit adoptions around Easter. “We used to get it more often. But what we get is young, 21 to 25 year olds who run in on the day before Easter saying: ‘I don’t know what to get my girlfriend.’” 

Those “occasion adoptions” are they ones that would wind up at UVic. But the SPCA has a thorough application and approval process to house the sterilized animals in “forever homes.” 

At Victoria General Hospital, where the Vancouver Island Health Authority has been selectively culling female rabbits for more than a decade, they too say their rabbit population has a lot to do with dropping off unwanted pets. VIHA spokesperson Suzanne Germain said in a cull of 28 rabbits in 2008, 15 had been sterilized already. “This means they had been released there by people who didn’t want them as pets anymore. The problem is tied to irresponsible pet ownership.”

If you’re planning to buy a bunny for your children or family as an Easter surprise, don’t do it, Stone urged. “They really are a lot of work. They’re a big responsibility,” she said. “They’re not a small children’s pet.” 

The Victoria SPCA currently has 42 rabbits up for adoption, but that number fluctuates between 30 and 50 depending on the time of year. In 2009 the Victoria SPCA had 129 rabbits come in. Fifty-four of them were owner surrenders and 26 were born there. The rest came from UVic and were injured or malnourished.

“People think that when they set their bunny free at UVic, they’re doing it a favour, putting it with all its bunny friends,” Stone said. “Those bunnies on campus look happy. But you don’t see the injured ones, the starving ones, the ones that are half dead. We do. It’s a death sentence when you release your bunny there where you think you’re setting it free.” 

Comment: The ethic of reverence for life makes no distinction between higher and lower, more precious and less precious lives. 
Albert Schweitzer

April 4, 2010 Carmina Gooch's interview with Sean Leslie was broadcast at 5 pm on Sunday.  For the most part, callers opposed a 'cull', and suggested attitudes and behaviours must reflect a value for life. 

For more on the rabbits read: Save the Uvic Bunnies blog.

April 7, 2010 website: The petition already has close to 1,000 signatures.  Some examples are:   

It breaks my heart as to the heinousness of the politicians. It is also a frightening reality that such mentalities represent the people and make decisions based on what they view as for the betterment of society by butchering the life of these defenseless rabbits when other options are offered and available. 

Seriously, how much blood does the administration want on their hands? A forward thinking institution should not be using barbaric medieval solutions to this issue. Save your culling money and find a better more sustainable solution! 

A cowardly and cruel administration should not be allowed to re-victimize the rabbits again. Work on humane solutions; they've certainly been offered. Quit trying to make excuses to kill--the public's smarter than you think.  

A press release “Debunking the disinformation, the University of Victoria and the campus rabbits” was sent out today.  If you haven't done so, please contact UVic, the BC SPCA, the media, Victoria City Council, your MLA, and the Ministry of Environment.  Network, spread the word, stay informed.  Carmina Gooch, RAG BC, was interviewed by Roslyn Cassells, Co-op Radio, 102.7 FM on April 5th.  It was an interesting discussion, with such revelations that for years injured rabbits have (and are) been dispatched by brute force, pummelled to death with shovels and rocks, rather than being taken, free of charge, to the BC SPCA's Wild ARC.  We can speculate as to disposal, but perhaps the administration would like to respond, considering that they are so concerned about the spread of infectious disease.  The University has been very secretive and less than forthright on the matter.     

From Carmina Gooch, RAG BC to the TC   

Dear Times Colonist Editor: 

It appears as though UVic administration is prepared to pursue lethal control measures for hundreds of the rabbits calling campus grounds home.  

The public looks to educational institutions as places of "higher" knowledge and ethical principles, and expects that decision-makers demonstrate both wisdom and compassionate leadership. In its position of power over the rabbits and other animal species calling UVic campus home I suggest that options are carefully considered in an open and honest manner with key stakeholders and the community. There is no such thing as a “quick fix.”   

Potential negative repercussions like that of tarnished reputation could be reflected in decreased enrollment and/or financial donations if a mass slaughter were to be carried out.