The cost of relocating feral rabbits from the municipal precinct to Ladner Harbour Park was less than anticipated, Delta council was told Monday.
Staff provided councillors an update on Delta's rabbit management program, initiated earlier this year to sterilize and remove hundreds of problem rabbits. It was a program budgeted at $60,000 but, thanks to volunteers, worked out to less than $25,000.
A staff report notes during the last three to four years, the population of rabbits in the civic precinct increased significantly to an estimated 400 to 500. As a result of abandonment and uncontrolled breeding, the bunnies were causing significant property damage to buildings and landscaping.
Delta had spent approximately $350,000 to repair damage to buildings and grounds in the civic precinct, while in 2011 Delta Hospice spent approximately $70,000 to repair damage.
A veterinarian estimated that without intervention, the population would have continued to grow to more than 1,000 rabbits within a year.
Coun. Robert Campbell said if something wasn't done, the total damage would have kept climbing to perhaps $1 million or more.
"This is not just Delta's problem, it's happening elsewhere," Campbell said. "You see rabbits being dumped now at the Richmond Auto Mall and they have to deal with that."
The municipality began looking for "humane" and "cost effective" solutions last fall, asking the Ministry of Environment for assistance.
A response by assistant deputy minister Jody Shimkus listed several concerns about relocation programs, including the release sites becoming dumping grounds for unwanted pets. During the trapping program conducted at the University of Victoria, rabbits were discovered in areas that had been cleared, suggesting that rabbit owners continued to abandon their pets there.
The ministry's position, she said, is the most cost effective means to control rabbit populations is to humanely capture and euthanize the animals.
Delta CAO George Harvie, noting the municipality didn't get a penny of support from the province, said that was highly unacceptable.
Another alterative noted by the ministry was to capture and export rabbits to sanctuaries in the United States, something Delta officials weren't keen on either.
Harvie said the move to Ladner Harbour Park has gone well and there have been no problems reported there.
The staff report stated that because the park is surrounded on three sides by water, rabbit migration would be limited.
"It is likely that many of the rabbits have fallen prey to natural predation and, since the rabbits are sterilized, the remaining population is expected to decline rapidly," the report stated.
Delta presented a motion at this year's Union of B.C. Municipalities convention requesting the province implement a province-wide ban on the sale of sterilized rabbits, which was endorsed.
Council was told this week the civic precinct appears to be largely free of rabbits. In addition to education, to further discourage people from dropping off their unwanted pets, council this week also agreed that staff bring forward a bylaw making the abandonment of rabbits a ticketable offence.
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