A white knight has hopped into the fray to rescue bunnies facing the death penalty in a scenic Rocky Mountain community near Banff National Park.
The town of Canmore, Alta., has made international headlines and faced the wrath of animal lovers for its plan to destroy its out-of-control feral rabbit population.
There's been heated debate in the town, too. One website is calling for a tourism boycott and threatening emails have been sent to the town office. The missives are currently being investigated by the RCMP.
But trapping and gassing the rabbits, as planned, may not be necessary after an offer from the Animal Rescue Corps (ARC), a non-profit animal protection organization based in Washington, D.C.
“Animal Rescue Corps presents to the town of Canmore a humane and lasting solution to address your community's feral rabbit population. When driven by compassion, I believe the humane solution is always possible through collaboration and determination,” writes ARC president and founder Scotlund Haisley in a letter to the town.
“With a plan in place, ARC would be on the ground as soon as is feasible. Once there, we anticipate the entire operation would last no longer than six weeks (to capture, sterilize and relocate 100 per cent of the rabbits) and would be completed at less cost to the community than the current catch-and-kill plan.”
Mr. Haisley is asking Canmore to immediately throw out the trap-and-kill plan so final details can be worked out.
The town hasn't commented on the offer.
Canmore, located 110 kilometres west of Calgary, was expected to begin dealing with some of its burgeoning bunny population this month. It hired a contractor to trap the long-eared hoppers and have them gassed if a deal couldn't be worked out with a local animal welfare group to sterilize and relocate them.
According to the ARC website, its mandate is to end animal suffering through direct and compassionate action, and to inspire the highest ethical standards of humanity towards animals.
It promises to conduct rescues of animals who fall victim to abuse and natural disaster, to create public awareness of animal suffering and to offer training and assessments for animal shelters, professionals and volunteers.
“It's wonderful news. It's absolutely wonderful. It's a dream come true,” said Susan Vickery, founder of Earth Animal Rescue Society, which has been working with Save Canmore Bunnies.
“They're going to catch them. They're going to spay and neuter them. They have literally thousands of volunteers through North America and they're networking with all the sanctuaries and they're huge,” she said.
“They're telling the town they want to come in and take every single rabbit — within four to six weeks if we're lucky.”
Ms. Vickery was heavily involved earlier this year when the University of Victoria in British Columbia dealt with hundreds of its own feral rabbits.
She also said she has found property north of Sundre, Alta. that could provide a sanctuary for up to 100 rabbits.
She was a bit frustrated at the lack of cash coming in for the Canmore cause, but said that shouldn't be a problem now if everything goes ahead.
“There's got to be a bit of negotiation with the town. But (ARC) come into places and they do it all and they also put in long-term management plans so these things don't repeat themselves.”
Ms. Vickery said she's not sure how the community can turn down an offer that saves money and allows it to “save face” internationally.
The rabbits were originally pets but were released in the 1990s and started doing what bunnies do best. Now, according to Canmore officials, the population has hit the 2,000 mark — one rabbit for every six people in the town of 12,000.
The town has said the rabbits are too plentiful and could attract cougars and coyotes looking for an easy snack.
This isn't the first sojourn into Canada for the Animal Rescue Corps. Earlier this month, it collected more than 200 roaming dogs from Lac Simon, a First Nation community about six hours north of Montreal and operated a free sterilization clinic for residents' animals.