The remainder of the UVic feral rabbits from a Coombs sanctuary have retired to Alberta.
The founder of the Earthanimal Humane Education and Rescue Society (EARS) has confirmed the rabbits are no longer on Vancouver Island.
The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO) confirmed 147 rabbits were relocated to a sanctuary in Alberta earlier this summer.
“EARS had a permit to operate, but that permit expired on July 31, 2015,” FLNRO communications manager Sharon Dean told The NEWS by e-mail Friday. “EARS has not renewed the permit and has instead relocated to Alberta.”
In June 2010, EARS assisted the University of Victoria in removing and rehoming about 600 feral rabbits from the University of Victoria campus to Coombs.
According to the ministry, “European rabbits are a ‘schedule C’ invasive species, so there is no permit needed to trap and kill them, however a permit is needed to possess them live in cases where they are being moved to another location, as with the UVic project.”
FLNRO provided EARS a one-time five year permit allowing them to take possession of the rabbits captured at UVic. As a condition of the permit, they were required to report annually on the rabbits received from that project.
Sanctuaries are permitted on a case-by-case basis only, and must each be approved on their own merit for specific reasons.
Susan Vickery, founder of EARS, described by its website as “a volunteer-operated, registered animal welfare charity,” said the last of the rabbits were transported to Alberta by vehicle in July.
“I got permission from the Ministry to relocate the former UVic rabbits… I had the option of renewing a five-year permit and I said I’d rather move them to a more appropriate place,” Vickery told The NEWS last week. “It’s a great climate, nicer environment and more secure.”
Moreover, Vickery said because EARS, which is a private rabbit sanctuary, is located close to public access points it’s often the target of trespassing, break-ins and vandalism. She claims just last week a person was distributing posters directing tourists to her private property to see the sanctuary.
“The relocation is in the rabbits’ best interest,” she said.
A concerned resident called The NEWS last week worried about deceased rabbits she saw on the EARS property.
Asked about the deceased animals, Vickery explained: “(The rabbits) have free range in large pens… once they die they’re sometimes dug back out by other rabbits, it sounds disgusting… The first few times I thought it was gruesome … but once these animals are gone, they think nothing of digging them back out… That’s their life cycle and there’s nothing inhumane about it.”
Vickery said she works hard to give the rabbits the most natural life and death possible.
“I’ve been at this for 15 years and it’s something we take very seriously and it’s not about abusing animals, the alternative is you keep them in confines where they don’t have that kind of freedom and that’s not a sanctuary, it’s a prison or a hospital,” she said.
“Do these animals suffer? I hope not. We do the best we can and believe me after five years you know them all. I haven’t figured out how to make them live forever and that’s the truth.”
According to Vickery’s annual report submitted to the ministry and obtained by The NEWS, 167 rabbits died last year from natural causes.
Vickery said most of the rabbits were mature when she took them in five years ago, so it’s not surprising that their numbers have declined.
Despite questions Vickery confirmed the remaining 147 rabbits were relocated last month.
“There’s nothing here to complain about,” she said. “Any animals here are my personal animals.”
EARS had been criticized in the past by people in the community concerned about the wellbeing of the rabbits in the sanctuary, as well as by neighbours who were frustrated by rabbits escaping.
Vickery said she’s had people threaten her, break into her home, steal from and vandalize her property over the years and as recently as this week.
Vickery is hoping now that the rabbits have been relocated the dust will settle and she’ll be left alone.