Rabbit rescue society warns Vancouver's feral population is about to boom, unless the city steps in
Cities across B.C.’s Lower Mainland should be putting plans in place to prevent feral rabbit populations from exploding, one animal rescue society warns.
During a Vancouver city council meeting Tuesday, Rabbitats Rescue Society raised alarm over recent data showing a substantial increase in domestic European rabbits appearing across the region.
“The society is also fielding a record number of calls from guardians wanting to surrender their rabbits,” reads a statement by the group.
“Vancouver, with the exception of Jericho Beach, has been feral rabbit free. This will soon end,” it warned.
Sorelle Saidman, Rabbitats' founder, says the rabbit landscape is changing across the Lower Mainland due to a combination of people abandoning pandemic-era pets, 2023 being the Year of the Rabbit, and Easter bunny-buying trends.
“Three unpaid rabbit rescues have kept the rest of Vancouver feral rabbit-free over the last decade by responding to abandoned rabbit reports and accepting surrenders,” Saidman said, adding that one of those rescue groups has closed and the remaining two are at capacity.
What’s more, Saidman said the BC SPCA and Vancouver Animal Services do not pick up stray rabbits, and rarely have the capacity to accept surrenders.
“We believe prevention is the best and cheapest method of European rabbit control,” Saidman said in a statement. “The city has to be prepared to take any rabbits out of the environment before they have a chance to breed.”
Under the BC Wildlife Act, non-native European rabbits that are living in the wild as abandoned pets are classified as feral—meaning the species can be killed, hunted or trapped without a permit.
The BC SPCA said in a position statement that it does not support the lethal control of abandoned, domestic rabbits.
Instead, the agency is in favour of “activities that aim to humanely trap, sterilize, and re-home adoptable rabbits in approved homes or sanctuaries that can provide for their needs for the remainder of their lives.”
In its presentation, Rabbitats pointed to the high costs B.C. cities have faced in order to control rabbit populations and deal with the damage the animals cause to “grounds, plants, trees and structures.”
“One business alone, the Richmond Auto Mall, estimated their landscaping damage from loose domestic rabbits in 2011 at $25,000,” the presentation reads.
In Delta, where the stray population ballooned last year, the city ended up paying nearly half a million dollars in damages, even after Rabbitats says the city addressed the problem early.
The society made several suggestions as to how the city could address the imminent problem, warning that it will either require “a small investment now or a very large investment later.”
Other suggestions included conducting a study to determine just how many rabbits have been taken or surrendered from private or public property in Vancouver in recent years, as well as an internal assessment of the city’s current rabbit control.
Finally, Rabbitats wants to see the city co-ordinate its approach with municipal and provincial partners, as well as animal welfare and environmental NGOs, businesses and other property stakeholders.
However, the group warns in its presentation that “the rabbits are not going to wait for the politics to get sorted out.”
In the meantime, Rabbitats is hosting an Easter BunnyFest on April 1 at the Scottish Cultural Centre in South Vancouver, where the group will offer families an opportunity to interact with real bunnies without purchasing one, all while raising awareness of the pending rabbit problem.
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