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Resort owner mulls transfer of rabbits to remote island

Craig Widsten may just be "some-bunny's" best friend. Best friend, that is, if you're one of the many abandoned rabbits currently calling the lands in and around the Richmond Auto Mall home.

Craig Widsten may just be "some-bunny's" best friend.

Best friend, that is, if you're one of the many abandoned rabbits currently calling the lands in and around the Richmond Auto Mall home.

Widsten, owner of the family-run Shearwater Resort & Marina on Denny Island across from Bella Bella on B.C.'s central coast, is contemplating transferring the critters to a seven-acre island he owns which is just a few football lengths across the water from his 50-room lodge and restaurant.

Widsten said Shearwater Island has no natural predators and just a few deer call it home, making it a potential safe, isolated haven for the bunnies. The fact it is heavily treed with old growth would likely make it hard for area raptors - hawks and eagles - to hunt down the rabbits, Widsten said.

While the rabbit transfer idea is in its infancy, Widsten said if it does get off the ground, there's a possibility Shearwater Island could become an added area of curiosity for visitors to his resort, similar to Okunoshima in Japan.

Known as Rabbit Island, that area has a colony of rabbits descended from those released by Japanese school children in the 1970s and has become a tourist attraction.

But that's not the motivating factor.

Widsten said his interest was piqued after being contacted by Rabbitats Canada, a rabbit rescue group working to adopt out a portion of the colony estimated to total around 160 bunnies.

Sorelle Saidman, spokesperson with Rabbitats, told the News the group has managed to trap about 60 rabbits from the auto mall area and is caring for them in a special facility housed in a vacant garage at the mall.

Thanks to funds raised by the Richmond Auto Mall, they will all be spayed and neutered.


Saidman said regulations do allow them to be exported out of the province, and a wildlife sanctuary in Washington State has been lined up to take them. But the preference is to find a made-in-B.C. solution like the one under consideration at Shearwater Island.

Growing up in a wilderness/farm environment on the coast, Shearwater's Widsten said he had all manner of pets - from frogs to chickens. Asked if he was an animal protectionist, Widsten said, "I don't think I'd put myself in that category. But I'm not a hunter, and we certainly look out for protecting wildlife in this area because we are in the business of eco-tourism."

The business has its headquarters on Sea Island where it also coordinates a freight-forwarding side of the operation.

As for what it may cost to relocate the rabbits, Widsten said he had not investigated the issue that far as yet, adding he was not looking for any grant or outside funding.

"It's more of an interest in providing a service to the community. We're not looking for it to be a money-making venture," he said. "It's an island sitting there doing nothing, and if it can be a benefit for some other use - an attraction for school kids - then maybe we can do something."

But, the plan could have some unintended, negative environmental consequences, said Gwen Barlee, policy director for the Wilderness Committee.

"One of the problems is that the island has an ecosystem, and when you put rabbits on that island they are going to eat up every little bit of greenery they could possibly get to," Barlee said. "And what does that mean if you have birds that use the area for nesting?"