by Al Campbell
VANCOUVER, Jan. 30 (Xinhua) -- A large colony of domestic rabbits that faced extermination at the University of Victoria after they were deemed a nuisance by the Canadian school, will live to enjoy the Year of the Rabbit after being saved by animal activists in British Columbia.
In the livestock barns at Vancouver's Pacific National Exhibition grounds on Sunday, the Rabbit Advocacy Group of British Columbia, Rabbitats Canada and UVic Rabbit Rescue displayed about 75 domestic and feral rabbits that were in the process of being spayed or neutered.
The sterilization process is necessary so the animals can be transferred to a sanctuary in neighboring Washington State where they will join bunnies previously removed from Seattle parks.
The transfer is the latest move in a steady reduction from about 1,600 rabbits last summer that previously roamed the University of Victoria campus in the British Columbia capital. The animals, originally pets, first started to appear on the university grounds in the 1980s when they were abandoned by their owners.
As rabbits do, they proliferated, leaving a path of destruction in burrowed holes on playing fields, abundant feces and making short work of the campus vegetation. The animals soon became part of university life, fed by many of the students and others who came to see them.
Last spring, fed up with the destruction, the school made the unpopular decision to starting culling the animals. This raised the ire of animal activists who filed a lawsuit against the university, going as far as getting the Supreme Court of British Columbia to grant a temporary reprieve of the slaughter to allow rescue groups to get their permits in order to save the animals.
So far, about 500 of the animals have been transferred to a sanctuary in the northern part of Vancouver Island, while another 300 were sent to Texas. The group of rabbits currently in Vancouver is the second delivery to go to Washington State.
Carmina Gooch, president and founder of the Rabbit Advocacy Group of British Columbia, estimated about 100 rabbits still remained at the University of Victoria campus, and eventually they would also be removed.
Admitting that there was "no easy solution" to the situation, Gooch said the university knew years ago the rabbit population was climbing and failed to react to the situation. She argued the City of Victoria did not help the situation in not banning the sale of domestic rabbits or in introducing rules related to the domestic breeding of the animals.
"I had even written [university] officials, and I know other people did too, asking what are they going to do about the rabbits? People, again in general, they leave things until it's too late. Or when it is really necessary to take action and then they decide lethal action, thinking it's quick and efficient, whereas it's not," Gooch said.
"People are still going to dump rabbits regardless, because that's what they do. Unless you change peoples' behavior and get them to value the animals and things, it's not going to get better. But the university's attitude that lethal control is acceptable nowadays that's wrong. It's morally wrong. We've got to look for alternatives. We're taking away the environment and habitat of so many species."
In an interview with Xinhua last year, Tom Smith, UVic's director of facilities management, said the school had been put in a "really, really tough" position by outside forces, irresponsible pet owners who dumped the animals on the campus grounds without thinking of the consequences. Some think the original animals could have been pets of students or had come from the surrounding neighborhoods.
He said it has only been in the last three years the rabbits have become a significant destructive force and the school was "not willing to live with this many rabbits ever again." Smith, however, was confident there would be enough sanctuaries to take all the rabbits.
"At this point we are thinking there will still be some rabbits on campus and we will spay, neuter or vasectomize the males to control that population from getting any larger. If there is a home for all these rabbits then it may be the best thing to do to send them to a home," he said.
Back at the Pacific National Exhibition grounds, rabbit-rescuer Sorelle Saidman championed the joys of having the animals as pets. Calling them smart and affectionate, she warned, however, that people considering buying one to mark the Year of the Rabbit needed to carefully consider such a purchase.
On average, she said, a rabbit could live anywhere from seven to 12 years and required as much care as would a cat or a dog. They should not be bought on a whim.
"They should be aware that rabbits will go through a puberty phase. They will not be cuddly pets when they are about six months old. But when they are about eight months old they will go back to being cuddly pets," Saidman said.
"They (prospective owners) have to do their research in advance to know what the proper rabbit care will be. They have to make this a long-term commitment. They have to know that rabbits can damage wires and they have to know that there are a few drawbacks, but not very many."