Fatal fate for rabbits at UVic

University takes strong stance to deter people from abandoning pets

There are fewer burrows, a lot less road kill and only the odd pile of rabbit poop.

Only eight long-eared lagomorphs remained on the University of Victoria campus in the days before the March 1 deadline to have all rabbits trapped and relocated.

“We know where they are, what they look like, and we’ll capture them,” said Tom Smith, director of facilities management with the University of Victoria. “The significance of March 1, though, is if we find any new rabbits on campus, they will be removed and killed.”

The university was home to a growing population of rabbits for two decades until last spring when a rabbit management plan was initiated. Last year, the school estimated there were upwards of 1,500 rabbits living on campus (although that number now appears to be high). About 100 of the animals were killed and another 867 moved into sanctuaries. The rest likely died from starvation or were killed by predators.

Animal advocates have asked the university to reconsider its position of killing any rabbits found after March 1. However, Smith says the school needs to send a strong message.

“People would continue to abandon the rabbits and expect us to capture them and relocate them (if we didn’t kill them),” he said. “Hopefully people aren’t looking for a place to have their rabbits killed — which will be the reality of the situation if they’re abandoned here.”

The rabbits found on campus were sterilized and shipped to sanctuaries in Coombs, B.C., and Whitehouse, Texas, often with help from animal advocates such as Laura-Leah Shaw, who was part of the effort to drive hundreds of rabbits to Texas.

“I hope that Tom is saying that to discourage people from dropping them off and not because he’s serious,” Shaw said. “If they want to stop people from dropping them off, we need to police the area. They need to put up proper signage and they need to work with local government to make stronger rules. Making an animal pay for a human’s inability to be responsible is wrong.”

Smith expects the last eight rabbits to be gone by next week.

“We’re happy with what we’ve been able to achieve. If people have concerns about us killing rabbits, the message then is to remind people not to release rabbits on our grounds,” he said. “They shouldn’t be releasing them anywhere in our community or we’ll see the same kind of problem again.”