Feral rabbit feeding frenzy causing auto mall problems

Animal welfare group partners with dealerships to help abandoned bunnies

The owners of the Richmond Auto Mall have paired with an animal welfare group to try to find a humane way to get rid of roughly 300 rabbits that have been hopping around the area for the past three years.

Though customers love the creatures, management is sick of them eating the manicured grounds and getting run over as they cross Jacombs Road into the wooded Richmond Nature Park near Westminster Highway.

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"The whole idea of having any sort of free-roaming domestic animal in a high-traffic zone like that is not the right mix," said Gail Terry, general manager of the auto mall.

The mall is trying to raise $60,000 to relocate the rabbits in partnership with Rabbitats Canada, a volunteer-run animal welfare group that sterilizes, contains and controls feral rabbit colonies across the province. A garage and bake sale at the mall netted about $900 on Sunday, but much more is needed to spay or neuter the bunnies and build a large sanctuary, said Sorelle Saidman of Rabbitats Canada.

Saidman, who in 2010 was instrumental in rescuing 903 rabbits set to be culled from the University of Victoria campus, said current laws encourage people to trap feral rabbits and put them down, rather than relocate them.

A person trapping and relocating a feral rabbit needs a special permit and proof they have a suitable sanctuary site available, she said.

"One of the biggest problems we have is that when a pet rabbit is released by someone abandoning that rabbit, almost as soon as those little paws hit the ground they are [deemed] wildlife under the provincial laws. But these rabbits are so far from wildlife it's ridiculous, even multi-generations down the road they are pets. Having a feral colony of rabbits is like having a feral colony of poodles."

No one from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations was available for comment Monday.

Saidman said funds raised will go toward building a structure that can house all the animals, which is necessary before the would-be rabbit rescuers can apply for a trapping permit. Ideally, Rabbitats would be able to sterilize the animals and give them away to interested families, Saidman added.

In Delta earlier this year, the municipality launched a $60,000 program to capture, sterilize, tag and relocate roughly 500 rabbits burrowing around the municipal hall and the Ladner Leisure Centre.

Saidman said most rabbits are abandoned by owners unaware their pets will temporarily become "bunnies from hell" during a hormone-filled adolescence, but the phase is temporary.

"They do get over it and go back to being really sweet pets, but people don't know that," she said. "And then they dump the rabbit at sexual maturity."

Several B.C. municipalities, including Victoria, Kelowna, Coquitlam and Richmond, have bylaws that regulate or ban the sale of unsterilized rabbits, Saidman said.

For more stories, visit www.vancouversun.com.

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