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'Cute, cuddly bunnies' or disease carriers? Feral rabbits divide Alberta town

CANMORE, Alta. - An Alberta town's plan to eliminate up to 2,000 feral rabbits has some people hopping mad.

CANMORE, Alta. - An Alberta town's plan to eliminate up to 2,000 feral rabbits has some people hopping mad.

Canmore
has hired a contractor to trap the bunnies and will then have them
gassed if an animal welfare group won't agree to sterilize and relocate
them.

Kyndra Biggy of the group Save Canmore Bunnies says it
will be very difficult to raise enough money to save the rabbits before
the traps are set later this month.

"I am definitely disappointed with the decision," Biggy said Wednesday.

"I
don't know how anybody can justify killing being the answer, especially
when there are other options out there. They all have little
personalities. Their lives are just as important as anything else."

The town says the former domestic pets and their offspring are breeding like rabbits and damaging property.

There
is also fear the mammals will attract predators such as coyotes and
cougars to the community near the gates of Banff National Park.

A
firm of professional trappers called Animal Damage Control has been
awarded the contract, which is to run from mid-November to March.

Company president Bill Abercrombie said rabbits can also transmit diseases if they gather in large numbers.

Abercrombie
said his staff will follow the town's directions about what to do with
the rabbits that are caught. His company hopes to stay clear of any
controversy.

"The last thing that we need in the town site is an outbreak of hepatitis or tularemia or some similar disease," he said.

"If this was skunks, no one would care. It is because it is cute, cuddly bunnies that there is a big kerfuffle over it."

The
president of the Humane Society of Canada wrote a letter Sept. 19
urging the town not to kill the rabbits. Michael O'Sullivan warned that
wouldn't work because any survivors would just breed more bunnies.

"The matter of the Canmore rabbits is not one of public health or safety; instead, it is one of politics," he wrote.

"Like
all political solutions applied to challenges facing interactions
between animals and people, they result in a miserable failure because
they are intended to solve a political problem and not an animal
welfare issue."

The town issued a statement Wednesday that said
managing the feral rabbits is similar to keeping bears out of the
community by controlling garbage.

Council says it will consider releasing trapped rabbits alive.

"If
a non-profit society for spay-neutering and permanent relocation to an
appropriate sanctuary comes forward at any time, the contractor will,
upon town approval, release trapped rabbits to the group."

Canmore
Mayor Ron Casey says one of the reasons the town has so many rabbits is
that Alberta wildlife officers killed off coyotes in the area a few
years ago after some runs-ins with children.

The rabbit numbers
then exploded because they have no natural predators. The bunnies have
spread throughout the community and without action, the population will
continue to grow.

Casey says the town is getting lots of
criticism for its rabbit-control plan, but so far no group has come
forward with a comprehensive proposal to accept the animals.

"There
are some well-meaning people locally who are working very hard on this
and maybe will get support from some group like the Humane Society," he
says.

"There has been no shortage of criticism. What there has
been a shortage of is someone willing to put the time and the effort
into finding a real solution."

Earlier this year, the University
of Victoria dealt with hundreds of feral rabbits destroying fields and
property. Most of the vagrants were trapped and relocated to
bunny-friendly sanctuaries, but others were killed.

Biggy said
Save Canmore Bunnies has lined up some veterinarians who are willing to
sterilize rabbits at cost, but they need more time to get organized.

"Two weeks to gather funds and land is not sufficient. I really hope people will step up for this."

— By John Cotter in Edmonton

 
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