There’s no such thing as a native rabbit on Vancouver Island, but colonies of feral rabbits are vexing residents of a Harewood subdivision where they’ve made themselves at home.
Gary Purvess, who moved to Southwood Drive in March, looks up and down his street and points out bark stripped from trees, foliage chewed from shrubs, lawns with craters from digging, and pitted gravel paths and driveways – all damage caused by feral rabbits.
“I even found a hole where they tried to dig under the foundation of my house,” Purvess said.
He and his neighbours place chicken wire around the bases of shrubs and over small gardens to prevent the rabbits from chewing up the neighbourhood landscaping.
“It’s the only way we can do it,” Purvess said.
But not everything can be protected with wire fencing. A neighbour’s lawn, planted in the spring, has been ruined by burrowing bunnies.
“I’ve talked with [city] animal control twice about rabbits and they said, ‘Well, we can’t do anything,’ so I’ve been trapping them and kind of gotten the numbers down around our place,” he said.
Purvess and a neighbour have trapped about 12 rabbits so far and relocated them outside city limits. He said many of the animals come from a property on Park Avenue where they’re finding shelter and food for the winter, but plenty of feral rabbits call undeveloped lots surrounding the neighbourhood home as well.
There are two basic kinds of rabbit on the Island: European domestic rabbits, originally introduced by settlers, and the eastern cottontail, first spotted in 1964 around Sooke. Both have spread throughout much of the east side of the Island, continue to breed like, well, rabbits and are classified by the province as Schedule C wildlife.
“Which means they are an invasive species, which means they can be removed by the property owner,” said Kevin Brydges, city environmental bylaw enforcement officer. “Private property owners are responsible for their own properties.”
Brydges went on to say feral rabbits cause significant infrastructure damage to sports fields, underground utility systems and building structures and pose user safety issues. The city has been engaged in meetings over urban bunnies with stakeholders that include Vancouver Island University and Nanaimo school district since September.
“We’re currently looking into hiring a consultant to develop a management plan,” Brydges said. “As part of that we’re going to look at populations because right now, other than saying ‘lots’ we have no idea. Those are the things we’re hoping to get more information on in the near future.”
There is a city bylaw against feeding rabbits, with possible $100 fines.