‘We are in a war zone,’ says woman who ordered Victoria rabbits shot

Susan Vickery of Common Ground wildlife refuge on Saltspring Islan, left, and Wendy Huntbatch of the World Parrot Refuge in Coombs, feed a rabbit at the parrot refuge in Coombs, B.C. About 240 rabbits were brought to the property this month from the University of Victoria, where the bunny population had become a serious issue. But on Sept. 28, about 30 rabbits broke out of the refuge, and several were shot by a neighbour. Photograph by: Brian Wilford, Oceanside Star

By Judith Lavoie, Postmedia News

VICTORIA, B.C. (Canada) — The woman who ordered the killing of escaped former University of Victoria bunnies says her farm is under siege by feral rabbits and she is now also coping with furious bunny lovers.

“We are in a war zone. They are very dangerous people. They chased the trapper off my field,” said Barbara Smith, who lives beside a government-approved rabbit sanctuary in the Vancouver Island community of Coombs that is taking bunnies removed from the university campus.

Smith, a retired lawyer, who has horses on the nine-hectare property, said she had no idea a rabbit sanctuary had moved on to the grounds of the neighbouring World Parrot Refuge until she returned from a trip and found at least 90 feral rabbits on her hay field.

The rabbits are an introduced pest, said Smith, who contacted a trapper who shot at least 30 animals.

“I am a farmer and these things are inherently dangerous. They are akin to rats. They are not harmless creatures, they are an actionable nuisance,” said Smith, who is incensed that the B.C. Environment Ministry would allow feral rabbits in an agricultural area.

“They have dumped UVic’s problem on us, created an environmental disaster zone and walked away,” she said.

Smith contacted Wendy Huntbatch at the World Parrot Refuge Tuesday afternoon, but the trapper started shooting about two hours later, before rabbit-rescuer Susan Vickery had a chance to catch the escapees.

Smith said the rabbits had been out since the weekend, so there had been plenty of time to catch them. “She’s responsible for containing those rabbits.”

All the rabbits killed had been tattooed and sterilized after moving from the UVic campus. The death toll included some of Vickery’s pets.

On Thursday evening, Smith said she could see about two dozen rabbits in her field and another four dozen in a neighbouring field, but she has no intention of allowing Vickery on her property to catch them.

“I will deal with the rabbits on my land in whatever way I have to,” she said.

That has Vickery in a quandary as she fears the survivors will meet the same fate as the dead ones. She also worries that injured rabbits could be lying in the field.

“This was just so unnecessary. This was just someone being angry,” she said.

Vickery said it is possible some rabbits escaped a couple of days earlier, but she does not believe 90 hopped away.

“Anyway, why didn’t they contact me?” she asked. “I find their behaviour completely unacceptable.”

RCMP and ministry officials have been on site. But the officials say that as the feral rabbits are wildlife, they can be legally captured and killed, provided a firearm is not used in the vicinity of a home and the animals are killed humanely.

Penny Stone, B.C. SPCA Victoria branch manager, said shooting rabbits is considered humane, but she is saddened the property owners did not give sufficient time for the rabbits to be recaptured.

“I would have hoped people would have had a little more patience, especially knowing what these rabbits have already been through,” she said.

Meanwhile, Smith said she is receiving threats from people angry about the rabbit killings. “It is just a horror show,” she said.

Huntbatch said she delivered a bale of hay to the gate outside Smith’s home Thursday morning.

“I put a note on it saying, ‘We paid for this with our lives’ and I signed it from the murdered bunnies,” she said.

University officials in Victoria have been trying to clear the campus of about 1,400 of the estimated 2,000 abandoned former pets and their offspring.

About 400 rabbits have been captured so far and are heading for sanctuaries as far away as Texas.

The sterilization/relocation program followed an outcry from rabbit enthusiasts when the university was considering culling the bunnies.

Victoria Times Colonist

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