METRO VANCOUVER -- The Corporation of Delta has come up with a plan to deal with the rabbit problem around municipal hall and the Ladner Leisure Centre.
Delta council approved a plan Monday night that will see the rabbits captured, sterilized, tagged and then released at Ladner Harbour Park.
Ken Kuntz, Delta's director of parks, recreation and culture, told civic politicians the colony at the civic precinct has grown to more than 500, a total he called a conservative estimate.
"We believe it's time for action," he said.
Kuntz said the ever-growing rabbit population, which was estimated at around 200 in 2010, is posing several public health issues. The rabbits burrow, leaving holes that can pose a risk of injury to adults and children coming to use the many amenities in the precinct. As well, he said, many youngsters are drawn to chasing the cute, furry creatures, which is risky with so much traffic in the area.
"Some kid's going to get run over by a car chasing these rabbits," he said.
As well, the animals are creating public health concerns as droppings end up all over the precinct and get tracked into many buildings, including the hospital, hospice, leisure centre and the sport development centre. And food left over from people coming to feed the rabbits has also increased the number of rodents in the area.
The feral rabbits are proving to be a costly problem.
Kuntz said the municipality has given up trying to replace all the plants destroyed by the rabbits. The hospice has lost $70,000 worth of landscaping to the animals and in 2010 Delta Hospice executive director Nancy Macey said that some of the rabbits had begun burrowing into the foundations of the hospice buildings, which required $20,000 to refit and prevent the critters from causing any further damage.
Delta Community Animal Shelter manager Sarah Lowe said the goal of the program is to humanely capture between 20 and 25 rabbits per week for about five months.
Local veterinary clinics are supportive of the program, she said, and have offered to spay and neuter the rabbits at a reduced cost.
Once sterilized, the rabbits will recover at the animal shelter before being relocated to Ladner Harbour Park, which was previously home to many feral rabbits. Many will also be available for adoption through the shelter at no charge.
Shelter staff and volunteers will provide ongoing care and monitoring of the rabbits once relocated.
Lowe said now is the time to act to get the problem under control.
"If nothing is done to control the feral rabbit population, we could see the colony grow by 20 per cent every year and double within five years," she said.
The five-month program is expected to cost $60,000. The price tag includes staffing, capturing, supplies, transportation and veterinary costs.
After five months, staff will report back to council with a review of the program.
The plan also includes a public education component to discourage people from abandoning rabbits, which is considered animal cruelty in the Criminal Code, and the introduction of a bylaw restricting the sale of unsterilized rabbits in pet stores.
The problem is not unique to Delta.
Communities across B.C. have dealt with their feral rabbit populations in various ways, from trapping and sterilizing to culling.
The City of Richmond brought in a ban on the sale of the animals in pet stores to help deal with its significant rabbit problem.
Kuntz said staff felt the plan was the most humane way to deal with the problem.
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