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Feral rabbits face cull in Canmore after failure to find sanctuary space

VICTORIA, BC: SEPTEMBER 2, 2009 - One of the many cute rabbits on the lawn at the University of Victoria Wednesday. The University of Victoria has launched a public awareness campaign on the campus' feral rabbits and are developing a long-term management plan for the animals, which will include trapping, sterilizing, and adopting some of the rabbits. (Photo by Deddeda Stemler for the Globe and Mail)

Deddeda Stemler/The Globe and Mail

An Alberta mountain town has begun trapping and killing its feral rabbits after being unable to find any more sanctuary space for them.

Canmore spokeswoman Sally Caudill said Thursday that the trapping started in mid-October. She didn't know how many had been killed.

"They are being humanely euthanized," Ms. Caudill said. "I don't actually know what that process is. I know that we have a machine that the trapper has purchased from an SPCA or a humane society … that puts them to sleep."

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What to do about the picturesque community's out-of-control rabbit population has been controversial.

The rabbits were originally pets, but were released in the 1990s and started doing what bunnies do best.

Past estimates have suggested the population grew to the point where there was one rabbit for every six people in the town of 12,000, though Ms. Caudill notes that the town has never tried to put a number on the population.

The town, located 110 kilometres west of Calgary on the eastern edge of Banff National Park, raised the ire of animal lovers and made international headlines last year for its plan to trap and destroy the furry little creatures.

A mass extermination was avoided, however, when a B.C.-based group called Earth Animal Rescue Society came forward and managed to find sanctuary for 213 animals.

The society has been unable to find any sanctuary space this time around, although organizer Susan Vickery is still hopeful something will come through.

"I'm not very happy about it and I don't think there is anybody who works at the town that is either," Ms. Vickery said. "But the truth is, unless another organization steps forward to provide sanctuary for these animals, there is no home for them."

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The town argues the rabbits are too plentiful and can attract cougars and coyotes looking for an easy snack. Ms. Caudill said one resident reported seeing a bear chasing a rabbit right through the heart of town early one morning this summer.

The town is still willing to work with EARS to save the rabbits if suitable sanctuary space can be found.

Ms. Caudill said despite the uproar over the rabbit issue, she doesn't think the town has experience any blowback as far as tourism is concerned. "We had our busiest tourism summer ever," she said.

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