They are fluffy and cute and spend most of their time nibbling veggies, digging holes and reproducing. And it's precisely these activities that have created a distressing situation for the University of Victoria, overrun with feral rabbits.
The university is starting a pilot project to trap, sterilize and adopt at least 150 rabbits from an area that includes its athletic fields - and is asking for proposals to do it in a humane way.
"We need to reduce the population," said Richard Piskor, the university's health, safety and environment director.
The university isn't sure where the rabbits came from, but it's believed they're descended from abandoned pets. Over the years, the population has exploded.
Last fall, the university launched a campaign to educate people not to feed, harass or abandon rabbits on the campus. It put up posters and signs, inserted bookmarks in textbooks and placed ads in newspapers, but the problem continued.
The university's chief concern is damage to the playing fields. Several athletes have been injured on grounds littered with rabbit feces and damaged by burrows.
"Any athlete that slips [and]falls has an opportunity to get infected," Mr. Piskor said. Rabbits can carry diseases such as rabies and salmonellosis.The university is also not happy that people continue to feed the bunnies. Mr. Piskor said the leftovers attract rats.
While the university will experiment with trapping, sterilizing and adopting the rabbits, a local veterinarian said his offer to find a solution was met with so much red tape he didn't pursue it.
Nick Shaw, who runs three animal hospitals in Victoria, proposed capturing the males, doing vasectomies and then releasing them.
"We wanted to conduct a bit of a trial program," Dr. Shaw said.
Male rabbits are territorial and don't allow other males to come into their territory, he said, so a sterilized male rabbit would help keep other rabbits away.
Dr. Shaw said the university's proposal to sterilize the rabbits and put them up for adoption is not practical. "[It'll be]very difficult to find homes for 150 rabbits individually," he said.
The university has the support of the British Columbia SPCA, which admits it won't be an easy task.
"But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try," said Geoff Urton, animal welfare co-ordinator for BCSPCA.
Mr. Urton said it's illegal to abandon pet rabbits, which could starve or be attacked by coyotes or dogs.
At least one rabbit has been the victim of student cruelty. Mr. Piskor said the rabbit was found with an arrow through its ear. It was treated for the injury.
Mr. Urton said UVic is taking a good approach, but said municipalities need to act also. He referred to Kelowna, B.C., which has a bylaw that every rabbit sold in the city must be spayed or neutered.
"The city of Victoria needs to step up," Mr. Urton said.
The Kelowna bylaw also prohibits the feeding of rabbits in parks or public spaces, and requires property owners to clean up problem breeding sites, such as wood piles. Rabbit owners must keep the animals contained.Report Typo/Error