But Red Tape and Provincial Politics May Prevail
A Richmond-based businessman, Craig Widsten, owner of the Shearwater Resort & Marina on the central coast, is offering a privately-owned seven acre island to house some of the many feral domestic rabbits in Richmond, BC.
Widsten is one of a number of BC property owners willing to house the abandoned pets and their offspring, but cutting through the provincial red tape is likely to be a challenge.
Shearwater, across from Bella Bella, BC, 60 miles west of Bella Coola on Denny Island, is an eco-friendly vacation resort at the edge of the Great Bear Rain Forest. The island, owned privately by Widsten, is predator-free and far enough offshore to contain the rabbits, but close enough for easy human access.
Widsten’s head office is in Richmond, BC, not far from where Rabbitats is dealing with rabbits abandoned at the Richmond Auto Mall.
Animal lover Widsten reached out to the Auto Mall and Rabbitats to offer to let the spayed and neutered Auto Mall rabbits run loose on his island, but also feels that Rabbitats’ idea of adding a ‘rabbit respite’ to the area as a family-friendly eco-tourist destination might make some sense as a commercial attraction.
That idea is styled after ‘Rabbit Island’, aka Okunoshima, off the coast of Japan, home to an abandoned World War II chemical plant and the ancestors of a group of rabbits released by an elementary school in the ’70s. The rabbits have proved to be a major tourist attraction greeting visitors in droves looking for food and treats.
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(above photo credit: Jeannette Langmead)
“If we can make this work,” says Widsten, “the increased traffic and attention could be a boost for tourism in the Central Coast. We have very high unemployment in our area and this attraction could benefit the whole community.”
The idea is far from a done deal. Once Rabbitats and Widsten assess security, costs, maintenance, sustainability and logistics, there’s the formidable task of dealing with the provincial government.
All abandoned domestic rabbits in BC are deemed wildlife by the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (Fish & Wildlife division) and a permit is required to trap and possess them, although not to trap and kill them. The department supports exporting the rabbits to the U.S. and adoptions to private homes but say they will not back applications for sanctuaries in BC and they’re specifically not keen on islands.
Rabbitats applied for and received a permit to export the first group of 50 rabbits from the Richmond Auto Mall to the Precious Life Animal Sanctuary in Washington State but it now wants to satisfy the adoption requests first.
“We were always told the two options available to us would be to adopt the rabbits out to private homes or export them to the U.S.,” says Rabbitats founder Sorelle Saidman. “Many of these rabbits we have here are special needs, there are some very small ones and some obvious house rabbits. These rabbits need to go to private homes.”
A sticking point is the definition of adoptions versus sanctuaries, says Saidman, noting that several rural acreages and hobby farms have offered to adopt and support 10 or 20 rabbits at a time, something Saidman considers a private adoption but the government doesn’t appear to agree.
“Also, exactly when are the rabbits are considered wildlife? We have dumped house bunnies who were picked up by volunteers after just a few minutes. They saw them being abandoned at the Auto Mall. The government still insists even those rabbits are ‘wildlife’ and under their control.”
Saidman points out that applicants like Shearwater and the rural properties can take all the Auto Mall rabbits and then some, but if they are unable to get the spayed/neutered rescues, they are free to take intact rabbits from breeders or Craigslist, and that could add to the problem instead of eliminating it.
But the bottom line, says Saidman, is that the pet rabbits should not be under the wildlife designation to begin with.
“They are companion animals, no different than cats and dogs, and those strays are not classified as wildlife, why are rabbits? In the UK, feral colonies of rabbits barely exist because the animal control services pick up stray rabbits as readily as dogs and cats. Rabbits are also farm animals with another set of laws. The last thing they are, or need to be, is wildlife.”
Saidman also disputes the claims that rescue is futile, pointing out that almost all the recent rescues resulted in total removal and ongoing control.
“The huge rescues at UVic and Kelowna have not resulted in a dumped rabbit increase, nor have the rabbits repopulated those areas, they’re under control. The alternative in almost all these cases it to do nothing. Businesses, institutions and property owners do not want to kill these rabbits.”
Just 100 rabbits or so are estimated to be living in the Auto Mall with 50 of them (and some offspring) housed in the Auto Mall’s “Rabbitville,” in a dealership’s vacant service garage. The rabbits have been in limbo while their permits are being sorted out. The government is not allowing additional trapping.
“We left about 10 rabbits out there when we stopped in March including two females with babies in the nests,” notes Saidman. We were going to be resuming when the litters were old enough to survive on their own and when we got the permits sorted out. Well the babies now have little brothers and sisters.”
Meetings with the province are scheduled for next week.