Rabbit Advocacy Animal Matters
Domestic Rabbit Abandonment in our Communities
By Carmina Gooch
Domestic rabbit (Ocyctolagus cuniculus) abandonment throughout B.C. has become a significant animal welfare issue. The rabbits seen in places like Minoru Park in Richmond and around the University of Vancouver Island originated from unthinking people discarding their unwanted pets into the environment.
Until recently, the University of Victoria and areas around Delta’s Municipal Hall in Ladner were full of abandoned pet rabbits and their offspring. Those rabbits have since been sterilized, identified, and relocated elsewhere.
Rabbits turned loose into the outdoors face considerable hardships in the daily struggle to survive. While green spaces may seem idyllic for these creatures the reality is quite different. Many will die before their first year, and most do not make it past three years. However, rabbits are prolific breeders so populations can rebound quickly.
The gestation period averages 30 days, and a single rabbit can have 30 to 40 young annually. She is able to reproduce year-round if the conditions are right, although the active birthing season is six to eight months of the year.
Threats to a rabbit’s well-being and safety are many, including predation, particularly when very young, illness and injury, adverse weather conditions, human activity, cruelty, and accessing adequate food sources.
Baby rabbits are generally purchased on a whim for young children and once the novelty wears off and they become a chore, people find a way to rid themselves of their responsibilities. The quickest and easiest route taken by some is to dump the family pet outdoors. Not only is this cruel, it perpetuates the belief that rabbits are starter pets and disposable commodities. This is not a message we should be sending to our young people.
According to provincial government officials, domestic rabbits are considered wildlife once they have been abandoned by their owners, or released into the “wild” with no attempts made to retrieve them. European rabbits are a non-native species and listed under Schedule C of the B.C. Wildlife Act. The position of government is that they have the potential to cause significant ecological damage and agricultural losses. Hence, there are no plans to remove them from that designation.
Releasing domestic rabbits is an illegal act. It is an indictable offence under the Criminal Code of Canada and an offence under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.
The way we treat rabbits, and all animals, is a reflection of our society. We have a shared obligation to protect the vulnerable and to prevent suffering. That means not dumping pet rabbits into the environment to fend for themselves.
Legislation to regulate the sale of unsterilized rabbits, public awareness programs, and humane education are some of the strategies being taken in efforts to encourage responsible animal guardianship and to curb the cycle of abandonment.
See page 6 of Black Cat White Dog August/September 2012