Rabbits will soon be merely a memory at the University of Victoria.
Last Thursday, the school decided to change its tack on the animals that have for decades been an unavoidable part of life on campus.
Instead of trying to maintain a population of 200 rabbits inside Ring Road, UVic will re-locate all existing animals and, as of March 1, will euthanize any new ones abandoned on school grounds.
“We learned some lessons after we put out the first rabbit management plan,” said Tom Smith, director of facilities management. That first plan intended to see all but 200 of the rabbits removed.
The change of plans came after an outpouring of support from the community that saw 823 of the lagomorphs trapped, sterilized and shipped to sanctuaries throughout the province as well as to Texas.
While initial estimates earlier this year put the rabbit population on campus at upwards of 1,600, Smith said the removal of 925 since spring (102 were euthanized in May) helped reduce the remaining numbers.
“The combination of the lack of reproduction combined with the removal of so many rabbits — and the impact from owls and hawks — has been really significant,” he said.
Only about 50 rabbits are left. They will be shipped off to sanctuaries within a few weeks before breeding season begins and removal permits expire.
Laura-Leah Shaw has been a fervent advocate for the relocation of the rabbits and has helped fund and transport 230 of the rabbits to Whitehouse, Texas.
The advocate says she’s “delighted” by the decision to remove all the rabbits, but would like to see a bit of financial support from the university.
“We saved them from a public relations nightmare,” Shaw said. “The community stepped up with money to save the rabbits. The university had to have budgeted for the alternative, so, we’re thinking, in all fairness, they could help us out.”
Smith says the university did save money through relocation, both in the short- and long-term, as groundskeeping tasks such as vegetation upkeep and burrow repair, will no longer be an issue.
As of March 1, any rabbits caught on campus will be removed and euthanized.
“We need to do that because we need to let people know it’s not OK to drop your unwanted pets off at UVic anymore,” Smith said.
Sara Dubois, manager of wildlife services with the B.C. SPCA, supports UVic’s decision to become rabbit-free. She calls the killing of any future rabbits an “unfortunately reality.”
“As a community, we need to keep responsibility of our pets,” she said. “We can’t just leave them in an environment where they’re not prepared to live a good quality life.”