Saanich council next Tuesday will discuss bylaw issues surrounding wildlife including rabbits and deer.

Saanich council next Tuesday will discuss bylaw issues surrounding wildlife including rabbits and deer.

UVic officially rabbit free; Saanich mulls tougher rules for pet stores

Beetlejuice was caught two weeks ago.

Last week, UVic grounds crews nabbed the elusive Coke Bunny. Now the grounds at the school are officially rabbit free.

Trappers spent the weekend scouring campus looking for – what they thought – were four remaining rabbits. But not a single sighting makes the director of facilities management optimistic they’re all gone.

“We think the hawks have taken care of the last few … so this is where we’re at: there are no rabbits left,” Tom Smith said.

Crews spent the last month trying to find the last eight rabbits, and became familiar with what they looked like and their habitual movements. That familiarity led trappers to name the stragglers.

As of Friday, the provincially-mandated permits allowing sanctuaries to accept UVic rabbits expire and the school will not be renewing them. That means any rabbit found on campus will be killed.

Grounds crews will trap any rabbit, then contact a professional trapper permitted to handle wildlife who will euthanize the animal humanely.

This, Smith said, is the university’s way of putting its foot down on an issue that has had an impact on campus life for nearly two decades.

“People would continue to abandon the rabbits, and expect us to capture them and relocate them (if we didn’t kill them),” he said.

On Tuesday, Saanich council was set to look at options for curbing a feral rabbit problem in the municipality “in the absence of responsible pet ownership.”

Last July, Coun. Judy Brownoff asked staff to look at what other municipalities have done to minimize the regional impact of a burgeoning rabbit population.

Kelowna has taken steps to ban the sale of unsterilized rabbits in pet stores and prohibit feeding rabbits on public sites. Oak Bay has prohibited the abandonment of rabbits on public and private land – the cause of UVic’s problem. Saanich staff recommends council approve similar options.

“We really have to say publicly that this is about people not taking responsibility for animals that they acquire,” Brownoff said. “I think these recommendations are a good start.”

Staff have also recommended council support a bylaw requiring rabbits on properties be contained.

The next steps will also involve getting surrounding municipalities to enact similar bylaws so dumping grounds don’t just move from one jurisdiction to the next.

“A message needs to be sent to the public that releasing rabbits out into the wild is unacceptable anywhere,” Brownoff said. “This is an issue that isn’t going to go away unless we enforce it, for the sake of our community and for these animals.”

kslavin@saanichnews.com