Many of the mid-Island’s rabbits were wiped out during a spread of rabbit hemorrhagic disease in April, but Karen Johnstone of VI Pest Doctor says they are slowly making a comeback. (Black Press file photo)

Many of the mid-Island’s rabbits were wiped out during a spread of rabbit hemorrhagic disease in April, but Karen Johnstone of VI Pest Doctor says they are slowly making a comeback. (Black Press file photo)

Feral rabbits in your yard? You’re on your own in Parksville

City says it’s up to individuals to deal with rascally creatures

Randy Barber is up to his ears in rabbits and he’s had enough.

Barber says a pair of released pets in his Parksville neighbourhood (in the area of Castle Way, off Ackerman Road behind Wembley Mall) have now multiplied and the rabbit count is approximately 30.

“They multiplied like, well, you know… rabbits,” said Barber.

He says he’s called everyone he can think of — the SPCA, wildlife conservation, police and even the Regional District of Nanaimo.

“They are destroying people’s lawns… up and down this two-block area,” said Barber. “Nobody’s given us an answer on how to deal with these things.”

The NEWS confirmed that aside from offering advice, all of the agencies Barber called are unable to help him deal with the problem.

Barber says tension is mounting in his neighbourhood, and he’s worried people might resort to drastic measures to protect their lawns.

“I don’t want to see one of our neighbours bringing out a pellet gun and starting to shoot those things because they’re getting tired of it,” said Barber.

The BC SPCA outlines the definition of feral rabbit on their web page.

“Non-native, domestic European rabbits that are free-living in the environment as abandoned pets, or offspring of such animals, are legally designated “feral rabbits” under the BC Wildlife Act.”

They encourage municipalities to enact bylaws “that prevent the sale or adoption of unsterilized rabbits and manage free-living domestic (“feral”) rabbits.”

Abandonment of pet rabbits into the wild is considered a criminal act under the Criminal Code of Canada, and is also an offence under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.

Lorie Chortyk with the SPCA said she can understand how frustrating this situation might be, but that the rabbits in question are out of the SPCA’s hands.

“From the information we have received from the complainant the rabbits are definitely wild and fall within the jurisdiction of conservation, so we do not have the authority to intervene. The SPCA is not trying to avoid involvement, but to direct to the appropriate agency,” said Chortyk in an email.

The City of Parksville’s Animal Control FAQ puts the onus on homeowners to deal with feral rabbits on their property.

Deb Tardiff, communications manager, says the city does not have a bylaw in place to deal with feral rabbits.

The city recommends that humane traps be obtained from local businesses, but does not offer further advice or assistance.

Karen Johnstone works with VI Pest Doctor, based out of Nanaimo. They don’t have the equipment to deal with rabbits, but she’s familiar with the issues they cause businesses and homeowners.

“Rabbits are notoriously nervous and efficient for staying out of places. It takes a lot of patience, and a specific setup to be able to trap them. They’re very wary and they dig. And they can dig deep,” said Johnstone.

She says various areas of the RDN have struggled with rabbit control in the past.

“It becomes a concern because there’s no one society that will go out and take care of the problem for a community. Each person is left on their own to deal with it, which is very difficult,” said Johnstone. “It really is a maze for the individual to try and figure out who to call… for which animal.”

“You can’t get rid of a problem if you’re leaving it up to each individual, because some can, and some can’t.”

In this case, the old adage about prevention being more valuable than the cure rings true.

Daniel Eichstadter is a conservation officer with the B.C. Ministry of Environment, working in the Central Island zone.

He says the key to limiting rabbits and other wildlife on your property is to not provide a habitat for them.

Eichstadter says feral rabbits on their own aren’t a part of conservation’s mandate, but they can become a problem when they attract larger predators, like cougars.

“Limit the shrubbery that you have on your property, especially close to houses. Things that rabbits love to hide underneath. Because that will just bring larger predators closer to their homes, and make habitat for rabbits around buildings, which will bring other animals closer to buildings as well,” said Eichstadter.

In the case of Barber’s neighbourhood, residents are fed up. Dorothy Lewicki and her husband live in the same cul-de-sac as Barber. Their lawn and garden bed is scattered with holes from digging rabbits.

“They’ve eaten everything in my garden except the geraniums,” said Lewicki.

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