By: Christine Tam, ctvbc.ca
Dozens of rabbits who narrowly escaped a cull by the University of Victoria broke out of their safe haven in Coombs, B.C., Tuesday, only to be shot dead by a neighbour.
The beleaguered bunnies were living at the World Parrot Refuge when they escaped from the compound and hopped onto an adjacent property, according to refuge owner Wendy Huntbatch.
Huntbatch told ctvbc.ca that she received a complaint from a woman who lives beside the refuge that the bunnies were trespassing on her property.
“She was very irate about it and she said they were pests and they were eating their grass and they have to go right away,” she said. “She was in a vicious mood.”
Conservation officers and refuge employees were on their way to catch and remove the rabbits when they heard gunshots.
World Parrot Refuge employee Yvette Abgrall said it was very frightening.
“We heard gunshots – pow pow pow pow – we started screaming and went running. There were over 30 of them shot,” she said.
Huntbatch said the neighbours were unhappy about the parrots and the rabbits at the refuge. They could not be reached for comment.
“They said it was because the bunnies were eating their grass. I mean how much grass can bunnies eat? They have about 25 acres of grass,” she said.
Huntbatch called the killings unnecessary.
“They have as much right to life as anything. They only live eight years and they’re all spayed and neutered,” she said.
These unlucky rabbits were among hundreds that were relocated to refuges in B.C., Texas and Washington after UVic announced plans for a mass extermination to control the population. The project was a result of animal activist groups and refuges stepping in to save the bunnies.
Susan Vickery, spokeswoman for Ears, which heads the relocation project, told ctvbc.ca she is in shock.
“Personally I find it outrageous and just deplorable really. We responded quickly in two hours and they didn’t even give us a chance. It was too late,” she said.
Cpl. Richard Van de Pol said RCMP are investigating the incident but criminal charges are not likely.
“If a rabbit is being held captive and they leave the area they are held in they are considered to be a wild animal,” he said. “Right now there is nothing to suggest any criminality.”
While there may not be any legal implications to shooting the rabbits, Vickery thinks there will be backlash from the community.
“A lot of people are very angry,” she said. “I’m in shock and just wondering how I can minimize any future incidents.”