Stop the Great Canmore Rabbit Invasion

It finally happened. The little problem Canmore, Alberta has been having with feral rabbits for the past two decades hit the national news last night. I did a short information piece in the summer on the “bunny problem” for Highline Magazine. The bunnies are cute but that does not change that they are also a pest, an invasive species, and drastic action needs to be taken to control their population. However, information circulating in Canmore and now across the country regarding the rabbits is turning what should be an simple issue to deal with into a three circus.

The bunnies are not a native species. They are the result of irresponsible pet owners in South Canmore and decades of the town not taking action. The rabbit problem could have been prevented if there had been a cull or a mass sterilization when the population was restricted to the area around Lawrence Grassi Middle School and the Bow River. Instead, the town council and the majority of citizens choose to look the other way and when 4 years ago rumblings of a cull began the response that the local papers choose to share in their “Letters to the Editor” was “my children love chasing the bunnies, if we kill them what will that teach them?” The answer is two-fold. First, it will teach them that pets need to be treated like pets and that it is not acceptable to set them free when you are tired of looking after them. Second, it will teach them about invasive species, how delicate ecosystems are, and the cycle of life. Though children could learn the same lessons when a hungry cougar wanders into Canmore in the winter in search of a bunny feast and instead happens upon something more substantial like the family dog or, as has happened before, a human.

The reaction of groups like “Save Canmore Bunnies” is just as worrying as the sentiment that culling the rabbits will not teach children appropriate things about the natural world. The intention behind the movement to trap, sterilize, and relocate the rabbits comes from the same place as the impulse to ensure wildlife are not killed on highways and endangered species are protected. The cost of such an endeavour when the rabbit population has ballooned as it has in Canmore and the inability of relocation alone to combat this problem raises questions about how feasible a solution it is. The sanctuary approach does not work as seen by the recent move by the University of Victoria to stop trapping, sterilizing, and relocating their problem rabbits in favour of the only guaranteed way of controlling the population – trapping and euthanizing.

There has been nearly a decade of debating what to do about the rabbits the population has continued to grow. Inaction is part of what allowed feral rabbits to overrun parts of Australia and New Zealand in the early twentieth century. Nearly a century later these countries are still trying to get what is often referred to as “the rabbit plague” under control. Given the ecological sensitivity of the Bow Valley and the proximity of Canmore to the boundary of Banff National Park there is no time left to debate and look at alternatives because when the bunnies become a problem in the National Park there will be no debate.

If the Canmore rabbits were hares and their populations were declining as a result of rampant development of the Bow Valley this would be an entirely different debate. But the rabbits are the pet store variety and their populations have boomed alongside the development of the Bow Valley. This is not a species at risk, or under threat, or endangered and in need of protection. This is a species that is disrupting the ecological integrity of the area (or what is left of it), posing a risk to native species, and increasing the visits made by large predators to the townsite. None of these are good things and the most effective way to combat them is to eliminate the source – the rabbits.

This species has wreaked havoc around the world. Australia and New Zealand were so over run with rabbits that they have destroyed unique ecosystems and it has taken decades of culling to bring them down to numbers that are nearly manageable and still the rabbits remain a problem. At the University of Victoria, where in the 1960s someone living in residence set their pet rabbits free on campus, the problem got to be so bad that sterilization attempts were ineffective in controlling the population increase that the university was forced to cull the rabbits. Keep in mind UVic is a smaller and more contained area than the Town of Canmore. Even Iceland has a burgeoning bunny problem which an Aussie living in Reykjavik pointed out with calls for caution in the Iceland Review last week.

Canmore need to take drastic action about the bunnies. Action that should have been taken twenty years ago when the rabbits were only in South Canmore. At this point it is impossible for the people who let the original rabbits free to be identified and punished for irresponsible pet ownership, as proposed to Council by the Humane Society of Canada. (It is an open secret among people who have lived in Canmore for more than twenty years how the bunny problem started.)

Council needs to stop pandering to the bleeding hearts and take action about the bunnies. The necessary action will not be popular but it is essential to finally bring the bunny problem under control. The rabbits are an invasive species. They are attracting more coyotes into the town because they are easy prey. If nothing is done they will attract more dangerous animals than coyotes – cougars. If the rabbits are not culled there will be bigger problems than homeowners having to shell out hundred of dollars for rabbit-proof fencing and traps to take control of the problem in their own neighbourhood.

The bunny problem has moved far beyond a neighbourhood headache. It is now an issue of wildlife attraction as well as health and safety for the entire town. A significant portion of rabbit population must be culled, not trapped, sterilized, and relocated, culled. This is the only way to gain a hand up on a species that is bred to reproduce as the pet store rabbits are.

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About Lauren Wheeler

Just a reformed history phd student working as a public historian and staying connected with the environmental history world from remote Edmonton. Requires coffee, music, laughter, and regular escapes to less Edmonton-like places.
This entry was posted in Canada, Environment, Opinion and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Stop the Great Canmore Rabbit Invasion

  1. Kevin says:

    Do you know what type of breed these Canmore bunnies are?

  2. I am not an expert on rabbits so can’t give a specific answer beyond they are a dwarf variety as none of the rabbits in Canmore are more then 4-5lbs.

  3. Rob says:

    Please get your facts correct about the Save Canmore Bunnies group if you’re going to make reference to them Lauren.

    Rob

  4. Rob says:

    Here’s an update to the uvic info too. I noticed your info on this was rather dated.

    http://www.timescolonist.com/life/Bunny+drama+shifts+Canmore/5497037/story.html
    Rob

    • Thanks for the article from Victoria about Canmore.
      Unfortunately it misrepresents has happened at UVic in the past year. Yes, some of the bunnies were brought to a sanctuary (as noted in the post) but this action failed to solve the problem on campus. The piece fails to mention the following “UVic has successfully trapped all of the rabbits on campus and provided them to permit holders. As of March 31, 2011 the permits to remove rabbits from UVic expired. As a result, rabbits can no longer be transported from UVic to sanctuaries. Any rabbits abandoned on campus in the future will be humanely trapped and killed.” (http://communications.uvic.ca/rabbits/qa.php#question8)

      Information about the status of the UVic rabbits see the link below.
      http://communications.uvic.ca/rabbits

  5. Rob says:

    I think you’re missing the point. They saved a great number of rabbits a uvic – that’s the point. Yes rabbit there now are “taken care of”, but is that not better than all of them being put under?.

  6. I think we will have to agree to disagree.
    Saving a few hundred bunnies is heart-warming. It does not, however, change that to eliminate the problem hundreds more will have to be trapped and humanely killed or that by continually trying to stall the town from taking action the rabbits continue to reproduce and make the problem worse.

  7. Halley says:

    Thanks for the article from Victoria about Canmore.
    Unfortunately it misrepresents has happened at UVic in the past year. Yes, some of the bunnies were brought to a sanctuary (as noted in the post) but this action failed to solve the problem on campus. The piece fails to mention the following “UVic has successfully trapped all of the rabbits on campus and provided them to permit holders. As of March 31, 2011 the permits to remove rabbits from UVic expired. As a result, rabbits can no longer be transported from UVic to sanctuaries. Any rabbits abandoned on campus in the future will be humanely trapped and killed.” (http://communications.uvic.ca/rabbits/qa.php#question8)

    +1

  8. Kathleen Terrio says:

    Hi

    I was involved with the rescue at UVIC – your facts are absolutely incorrect – let me tell you the truth. Over 1000 rabbits were rescued from UVIC – about 900 legally and maybe over 100 illegally. It was an absolute and only because of the dedicated volunteers that carried it out.Had the University carried out their original plan to euthanize the rabbits they would have severely damaged their reputation and would have lost a great deal of students. (and they figured this out finally) Canmore is headed the same way – they will lose god knows how many tourism dollars if they think that what they are doing is correct. The world is smaller now and word gets out veryquickly. If you honestly think there is some way you can justify killing 1000 to 2000 innocent rabbits and think people will applaud you for it – you are seriously deluded. I hope Canmore makes the correct decision – it doesn’t even make financial sense to do what they are doing and also why punish the rabbits (victims)for the sins of the irresponsible petowners and the administrations that allowed them to procreate. Where is you logic and more importantly your heart – I would like to see you look into the eyes of innocent rabbit and shoot it point blank. If you can do that I don’ think you are much of a “humane” being yourself.

    By the way – the safety issue is %$#^-shit – read some studies on coyotes. Most of them are in town because of human attractants and have been there for years.

    Please get you facts straight! By the way there is not a single rabbit left on campus at UVIC- the rescue – not thanks to the university was a resounding success – I work there so I know it. ( I was also heavily involved with the rescue)

  9. Susan Racine says:

    I live in Ontario – I heard about your rabbit “plight” tonight on the radio, and again in our local paper.

    I can’t believe how you can turn this gift you have been given into a major problem. You have the opportunity to do an enormous amount of good in this world by being charitable and generous to your fellow man, yet you do not have the foresite to recognize it.

    When my father did not have enough money to feed us, he & our neighbor would go rabbit hunting. We ate broiled rabbit, roasted rabbit, rabbit pie and rabbit stew and it kept us all warm and healthy. Our forebears In this great country ate rabbit too, (and ducks, geese, moose, etc.) In Toronto they sell rabbits for food at the meat counters, as they do in many parts of the world over.

    You have over 2000 rabbits, and, properly managed, could attain even more. Can you imagine having an on-going, on hand solution to feeding your hungry people, (do you not have street people, poor people, people down on their luck). All you need is a few properly prepared rabbit pies and stews to educate your public about the nutritiousness and deliciousness of this food – maybe have a “rabbit” cook-off festival? This could be turned into a whole economic industry on your end. Of course, you will have to do this delicately – catch them, “farm” them,- make an industry of it. As for Susan Vickery of BC who is “saving” rabbits ($139 would feed a family of four for a week) : “Their lives have intrinsic values” – We should then make the best of it.

    Do you not think in the grand scheme of things that there was a reason you have this influx of rabbits?

    Note: I went to Baie Comeau Quebec 12 years ago – they had an influx of seagulls – the town, the buildings, the cars and sidewalks were covered with droppings – unhealthy to all. Co-oincidentally, you had a grasshopper epidemic. * Relocating the seagulls (and their eggs) would have solved both your problems.

  10. Jess says:

    I have to point out that the bunny “problem” started in the 80’s with just 2 bunnies being released. (having knowledge of the person who released them)

    If in 30 years the bunnies have overrun the town even after coyotes and wolves have been snacking on them. Not to mention the ones dogs catch and people shoot with bb guns, the bunnies are still rampant and continue to grow, the only way to control them is to “get rid of them”

    To quote the boys on the radio “If they were snakes and not fluffy bunnies everyone would be given a shot gun!”

    Don’t feel bad for the fuzzy bunny, even cute animals can damage the environment and disrupt the eco-system. Just ask Australia.

    Jessica (local…. that’s life time resident of the bow valley)

  11. Quintin says:

    I have 1 question for everyone who is crying about culling the rabbits: How many of you have used a mouse trap? Do you not feel that mice are cute and fuzzy too? But they cause huge problems.

    Don’t forget that rabbits are rodents too, just cuter. This arises when there is too much prey and not enough predator.

    Quintin

    • Kevin says:

      Rabbits are not rodents, they are lagamorph’s more closely related to horses.
      The rabbits are in town, neither the rabbits or the people are native to the area. As for these gardner’s a bale of chicken wire is about ten dollars. And Rabbits do not try to make there homes in people houses unless they are pets. Your arguments Quintin do not make sense to me.

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