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Date: September 05, 2008

UVic Launches Public Awareness Campaign on Feral Rabbits

Sure they’re cute, but they’re not pets. They’re wildlife.

This is the main message behind a public awareness campaign being launched next week by the University of Victoria. The campaign’s goal is to change the way people view and interact with feral rabbits at its Gordon Head campus.

“We have determined that rabbits will have a continued presence on the UVic campus, but the status quo is not an option,” says Neil Connelly, UVic’s director of campus planning and sustainability. “The university is developing a long-term rabbit management plan that is based on a significant shift in how we view the rabbits and how we behave around them.”

UVic is well-known for its feral rabbits, which are pets or descendants of pets that were abandoned on campus by members of the community. Although many people on and off-campus enjoy the presence of the rabbits, their activities can have a significant impact on human health and safety (the risk of catastrophic injury to athletes from rabbit holes, for example, or disease spread by rabbit feces), and on plants and property.

The public awareness campaign is aimed at eliminating further abandonment of unwanted pet rabbits, reducing human-provided food sources for rabbits, and preventing harassment of and cruelty to rabbits.

Rabbit abandonment is a community-wide issue that requires community-wide solutions, stresses Connelly. UVic will be asking local governments to toughen up their bylaws dealing with the abandonment of pet rabbits and to consider banning the sale of unspayed and unneutered rabbits, except to registered or licensed breeders.

“Some people seem to think that rabbits are disposable pets,” he says. “We all need to drive home the message that abandoning your pet rabbit anywhere, not just at UVic, is not only irresponsible and inhumane, it’s illegal.”

Feeding the rabbits helps push their numbers toward an unmanageable level, and the leftovers are creating a ready food source for a growing rat population. Feeding rabbits also increases the risk of rabbit bites and the tetanus that could result. “The rabbits at UVic are not pets, they’re wildlife,” says Connelly. “Like other wildlife, rabbits must forage for their food to survive.”

The campaign also cautions people to not chase, handle or pet the rabbits, and reminds dog owners that their pets are to be kept on leash and under control at all times when on campus. As wildlife, feral rabbits are protected by federal and provincial legislation from acts of harassment and cruelty.

Since late 2007 the university has been gathering information on rabbit-related damage and safety concerns, on the significance of rabbits to UVic’s sense of community and external image, and on feral animal management issues in other jurisdictions. The university has also consulted with on-campus groups, residents’ associations, community organizations and local municipalities.

The process included initiating ongoing surveys of the size and distribution of the feral rabbit population in specific areas of campus.

“By understanding the population densities we’ll be able to explore a number of non-lethal control methods, such as vegetation modifications, to try to manage rabbit activities in key areas such as the athletic fields,” says Connelly. “These methods will be investigated in the coming months, in consultation with internal and external stakeholder groups and volunteers. The public awareness program is the first step.”

Connelly stresses that the university is not in a position to make a significant financial contribution to this issue. “The university cannot justify diverting substantial funding from its educational mission to deal with what is, in reality, a community-wide issue.”

For more information, visit www.uvic.ca/rabbits.
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Media contacts:
Neil Connelly (Director of Campus Planning and Sustainability) at 250-721-7019 or nconn@uvic.ca
Tara Sharpe (UVic Communications) at 250-721-6248 or tksharpe@uvic.ca

Backgrounders:
Feral Rabbits At UVic: Backgrounder

UVic media releases and other resources for journalists are available on the World Wide Web at http://communications.uvic.ca/media

(image: fern)