Case studies of feral rabbit colony management.
University of Victoria
Two thousand rabbits were estimated to be inhabiting the University of Victoria (UVic) campus at it’s peak. UVic initially paid $20,000 for a failed rescue/research program, then ordered a lethal cull. After the first 100 rabbits were killed, protests, injunctions, and provincial regulations delayed the project allowing rescuers to find sanctuary space and raise $125,000 (including a $50,000 grant for spays and neuters from Fur-Bearer Defenders).
The actual final tally was 1000 rabbits — the surviving 903 were all successfully re-homed. The majority of rabbits went to a sanctuary in Coombs, BC, on a property that had previously occupied by a petting zoo. Only additional fencing was required, and over 600 rabbits were cared for by one woman with limited assistance.
The project was funded for life (in advance) via donations, grants, and investments. 225 spayed and neutered rabbits were taken to an existing sanctuary in Texas and housed in a barn and purpose-built pens. 50 more UVic rabbits went to a family farm in Cowichan Station with a couple with small children and full time jobs who easily took the rabbits housed in a converted pig barn and run, no additional support was required. 50 joined a feral colony at a rescue in Washington State, no additional support was required.
An additional 50 went to another Washington sanctuary along with a one-time $5,000 donation. At least 300 hundred of the surviving rabbits rescued from UVic and Canmore have since been relocated to a doctor’s hobby farm in Alberta. Several entities wanting UVic rabbits didn’t get any either because of the arduous government process involved in getting a permit, or there were no more rabbits available.
The City of Kelowna was overrun with feral rabbits. In 2008, the City called an exterminator in spite of protests from the local community. The exterminator’s cost was $52,000. The protests greatly escalated when the exterminator was caught stomping on a rabbit causing the City to redirect to a local rescue group. Roughly 800 rabbits were eventually rescued and housed in a number of enclosures hosted throughout the area. The city then passed a bylaw requiring all rabbits for sale or adoption to be sterilized. After three years Kelowna was virtually rabbit-free and the rabbits remain under control.
Delta successfully trapped and sterilized hundreds of rabbits and released them into a contained park to live out their lives. The budget was set at $60,000, however, with veterinarians discounting their services and the many volunteers who helped out, actual costs were much lower than expected. The municipality noted that cost of the rabbit management program was also far less than the annual costs of repairing the damage caused by the rabbits in the civic precinct. Prior to the round-up, Delta had incurred approximately $350,000 in costs to repair damages caused by the rabbits to the buildings and grounds in the civic precinct. Similarly, in 2011, the Delta Hospice spent approximately $70,000 to repair landscape damage caused by rabbits. A spay/neuter law and diligent animal control has kept the rabbits in check.
Richmond Auto Mall
Rabbitats was looking for an inaugural rescue project at the same time the Richmond Auto Mall was looking for a solution to their rabbit infestation problem. Rabbitats approached the Richmond Auto Mall Association, a body representing the 14 dealerships on site, with a plan and a proposed budget covering five years of ongoing support to be split amongst the businesses, public donations and event fund-raising. A holding space in an empty dealership was used to house the rabbits. Permanent space was initially found at a farm in Delta, but a better option surfaced in South Surrey. A sanctuary to house 120 of the estimated 250 rabbits was built at that location. The remaining rabbits were adopted out in smaller groups. A semi-permanent garage was eventually offered to the rescue as a shelter and they began accepting rabbits from other areas.
South Surrey Sanctuary
Rabbitat’s South Surrey sanctuary houses 100 to 125 Richmond Auto Mall rabbits. It was built for less than $4000 (including a 20-ft shed) in a rescue partner’s courtyard with additional space in their barn using wood, wire, road base, netting, and later acrylic roofing panels. A volunteer built custom bunny houses and feeders. The sanctuary is secure from human and animal predators. The set-ups ensures easy maintenance. A volunteer spends 60 minutes a day on rabbit care with extra cleaning sessions on weekends. The rabbits eat roughly 12 bales of hay and 40 lbs of pellets a month, and donated produce cast-offs, grass. tree branches, etc. daily.
Semiahmoo Animal Rescue League
Semiahmoo Animal Rescue League (SALI) provides animal therapy for at-risk children using rescued at-risk animals. SALI and Rabbitats teamed up to build an indoor/outdoor ‘rabbitat’ housing eight rabbits who provide endless joy and healing to the kids.
Failure – Canmore, Alberta
In 2011, the town of Canmore became concerned their burgeoning feral rabbit population was attracting predators and causing wildlife conflicts. Their solution was to budget roughly $50,000 per year tendered to a trapper. The town invited a rescue (only one met the town’s criteria) to take rabbits, but not share the budget. The first four months, the trapper received $29,680, and the rescue received 189 rabbits, which then needed to be sterilized and cared for out of the rescue’s pocket. Eventually the rescue’s funding and patience ran out — rabbit fans were at odds with the town and the rescue and residents were at war with each other — and subsequent rabbits were gassed by the trapper and the bodies sent to a wildlife centre.
While the numbers were reduced, many rabbits remain. The trapping was woefully incomplete – residents not in favour of the lethal cull denied permission to trap on their property, and the rabbits continued to multiply. The total bill has so far surpassed $350,000 with the a $50,000 annual contract again up for grabs. The goal is now to reduce, but not eliminate, the population.
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