They’re a regular topic of conversation on campus and hard to miss: University of Victoria’s feral rabbits. How many are there? “We were thinking about 1,200,” says Tom Smith, the university’s executive director of facilities management. But now, with this spring’s bunny baby boom, it’s probably more like 1,500, he says. That’s one for every 10 UVic students.
The rabbits, most abandoned as pets by their owners, first started showing up on campus in the 1980s. Local and national media have had great fun reporting on the infestation, with frequent references to Bugs Bunny’s antagonist Elmer Fudd. Mr. Smith tries to keep a sense of humour, but says the problem is serious.
The rabbits are digging holes all over campus, creating a tripping hazard, and have decimated campus gardens and landscaping. Plus they’re messy: in the campus quadrangle, says Mr. Smith, “the students can’t sit on the grass anymore because it’s covered with rabbit poop.”
Last December, the university launched a pilot project to gather up 150 of the rabbits, spay and neuter them, and find them homes. It didn’t go so well. A number of animal shelters had agreed to take some of 50 that were collected, but then backed out after being told they’d need a permit from the B.C. ministry of the environment. The ministry also wouldn’t allow the bunnies to be adopted because they’re considered wildlife.
The university is working on a new management plan, due out by the end of June, which will divide the campus into rabbit-free zones and rabbit-control zones. In the latter, the plan is to cull the rabbits and then manage them at a “sustainable” level, says Mr. Smith.
The university will run the plan by the B.C. SPCA and the environment ministry. “We’re committed to doing this in the most humane way,” says Mr. Smith. Many students are against a cull, while others have joked the rabbits should be killed and cooked to feed the homeless. That, too, is not allowed.