Couple takes aim at rabbit population

NANAIMO – Couple catches rabbits in parks and commercial properties to foster or relocate them.

Ashley Henderson

Ashley Henderson

One could say Ashley Henderson and Josh Ter Veer are passionate about their pastime.

Anyone who has walked through parks, golf courses and undeveloped properties in Nanaimo has likely noticed there is no shortages of rabbits running loose around the city.

For the past two years, their love for rabbits has driven them to spend hours at a time catching the animals.

They keep some as pets, find new foster homes for others or relocate them out of town away from human habitation where they can cause damage or risk being injured by vehicles.

“I don’t think bunnies are meant for the city,” Ter Veer said. “You see them get hit by cars and they chew up people’s gardens, so we try to get them out of here.”

Rabbits are not native to Vancouver Island and many of the rodents roaming free started out as pets that either escaped or were turned loose to fend for themselves when their owners no longer wanted them.

“About three years ago I caught one and thought it’s pretty easy to catch,” Henderson said.

Since the rabbits they are after are accustomed to humans they are fairly easy to catch, but it takes patience and time.

May Richards Bennett Pioneer Park, the Cavalotti Lodge grounds, Beban Park and Country Club Centre are good catching grounds.

“We never used to use nets,” Ter Veer said. “We used to just use our bare hands. We’d chase them around for sometimes an hour or two hours before we’d catch them. It’s almost like a sport.”

These days the couple uses fishing nets to bag their quarry. One reason they’re fairly easy to catch is because these formerly domestic rabbits are pretty docile.

Ter Veer said live traps rarely work because food for rabbits is virtually everywhere, so putting a carrot inside a trap as bait really offers little incentive for the animal to go after it.

Of the 23 rabbits the couple have penned in their back yard, eight were born wild, but even those are completely comfortable being picked up and petted.

The couple, which estimates they have caught 250 rabbits so far, would like to land contracts with the city or business owners to remove problem rabbits from their properties and offer a humane alternative to killing the animals. They’d like to be hired to clear out Beban Golf Course.

“We look over the fence and say, like, ‘Oh, there’s so many bunnies to catch over there,” Ter Veer said.

Country Club Centre hired the couple to catch rabbits on the shopping centre’s property several months ago. They caught most of the rabbits, but a few that proved too difficult to net were left behind. Dave Mills, centre manager, said in an e-mail the effort was still a big help in keeping the population under control.

“We also take rabbits that people can’t care for anymore,” Henderson said.

The couple’s activities and methods do draw attention, especially at night when it’s easier to catch the animals because they tend to freeze when a flashlight is shined in their eyes.

“We had this big net we were catching them with and we were walking down the street at three in the morning,” Henderson said. “This cop pulled up and said, ‘I have to ask….’”

For more information, please call Henderson or Ter Veer at 250-739-8980.