Victoria, B.C. - The University of Victoria announced plans Monday to cull, or sterilize and relocate 1,400 rabbits that have overrun the campus.
About 200 rabbits will be allowed to stay on university grounds within Ring Road.
The surplus rabbits are to be removed by a contractor using traps. The captured rabbits either will be sterilized and relocated or euthanized by undisclosed methods. Community members who wish to accommodate sterilized rabbits can apply for a permit from the Ministry of Environment.
Details of UVic’s feral rabbit management plan were released yesterday, evoking a mixed reaction from those who advocate for the rabbits. “I feel positive in the sense that our success will be proportional to how the community responds,” said Susan Vickery of Common Ground, a Gulf Islands-based wildlife assistance organization.
A pilot program last winter failed because rescue organizations were unwilling to have their property and cages inspected to ensure ministry specifications were met.
Vickery is worried UVic’s plans will prompt some people to grab rabbits and take them home to “save” them. “I’m really hoping the university’s response and our engagement will redirect some of that energy, so people will get on board and work toward a positive result.”
Social-justice advocate Roslyn Cassells said she’s disappointed at UVic’s decision “when there’s a plethora of humane, non-lethal alternatives to them.
“We feel the university has lost their way and they need to catch up with the community, which is putting out really progressive, sustainable, economical and humane alternatives.”
The university’s plan sets out with military precision “rabbit-free” zones for playing fields and other areas outside Ring Road. The core of the campus inside the road will be declared “rabbit control zones,” with 50 rabbits allowed in each of four quadrants.
The plan “will resolve the university’s concerns,” said Tom Smith, UVic’s executive director of facilities management.
“It will reduce the population of rabbits in the short term to a number we consider sustainable … it’s a big reduction,” Smith said.
Anyone in the community can apply through the Ministry of Environment to provide a sanctuary for the feral rabbits. “Realistically, we hope there’s a capacity in the community to go through the permitting process and receive rabbits,” Smith said.
But there are far more rabbits on campus than prospective homes, he suggested. “I don’t think we’re fooling ourselves — I don’t think there’s the capacity out there for 1,000 rabbits.”
The surplus rabbits will be trapped. Those that can’t be accommodated in the community will be euthanized by a humane method recognized by the American Veterinary Medical Association. Smith would not elaborate on methods being considered.
There are now about 400 rabbits living within the area circumscribed by Ring Road, Smith said, and removing half of them will improve conditions for survivors. “The concept is the food supply will better, the rabbits will be healthier. They’re still territorial, so generally we would expect them to stay where they are. And we’re hoping there’s a volunteer community who will come forward and create things like feeding stations.”
The plan is a test, he said. “If it’s still too many [rabbits], we’ll have to revisit it.”
UVic sent out letters to the veterinary community seeking their involvement in the future care of rabbits within Ring Road. The rabbit population “got out of hand” over the last few years, Smith said. “We certainly didn’t anticipate this increasing so fast.”
The number of rabbits that need to be killed or removed is unfortunate, Smith added. “We’re not happy at having to deal with this, but we’re also not prepared to wait for four or five years for a spay/neuter program to take effect.
“There’s lots of people who disapprove of it and we don’t like it ourselves, but it’s a decision the university has made.”
The plan will go into effect later in the summer and carry on through the winter months, Smith said.
Keeping 200 rabbits inside Ring Road “is probably a sustainable number,” Vickery said.
Organizations like Common Ground don’t have capacity to take on rabbits in the numbers UVic has to offer, so she applauds the university’s decision to open up relocation offers to the community.
The university’s neighbours are applauding the plan. “If people hadn’t abandoned their pets on campus, we wouldn’t be faced with this,” said Mike Wilmut, president of the North Henderson Residents’ Association, in a release.
“UVic is having to deal with the aftermath. Hopefully, some rabbits can be relocated by community groups but the rabbit population has grown too large for that to be the sole solution to keeping rabbits from migrating into campus neighbourhoods and other nearby areas.”
The B.C. SPCA is encouraging municipalities to pass laws prohibiting the sale of non-sterilized rabbits and abandonment of the animals.
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