Posted: September 19, 2008, 7:15 p.m. EDT
College campuses seem to attract an interesting array of animals – squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks and birds – that eagerly await dining hall handouts and peacefully co-exist with co-eds running to classes and tailgates.
But the University of Victoria has attracted a somewhat unusual wildlife population that is growing out of control. In the past few years, the British Columbia college town of Victoria has seen an influx in the feral rabbit population, making it well-known for having them.
Feral rabbits are former pets, or descendents of former pets, that were abandoned by their owners and are now considered undomesticated. In September 2008, the university launched a public awareness program to eliminate the abandonment of pet rabbits, reduce human-source food and prevent rabbit cruelty.
“Some people seem to think that rabbits are disposable pets,” said Neil Connelly, University of Victoria’s director of campus planning and sustainability. “We all need to drive home the message that abandoning your pet rabbit anywhere, not just at UVic, is not only irresponsible and inhumane, it’s illegal.”
The department is handing out posters, bookmarks and brochures, alerting students and the community to the problem.
They might look like cute pets, but the feral rabbits can cause quite a bit of damage -- not only to private gardens, but to university gardens and plants used in teaching programs as well. Rabbit holes and feces on athletic field raise concerns for the health and safety of the university’s athletes, and the rabbits’ tunneling has damaged university buildings.
Although Connelly said that the university recognizes that rabbits will always have a presence on campus, the campaign aims to change the way people interact with the rabbits, reduce the rabbit’s impact in specific campus areas and monitor the size and distribution of the rabbit population over time.
No one at the university could comment on how much the program is costing the university to implement.
“Rabbit abandonment and its consequences is a community-wide issue that requires community-wide solutions,” Connelly said, noting that the university could not provide substantial funding for the project as it takes away from its educational mission.
In the fall of 2009, the first phase of this awareness plan will be evaluated in order to measure its success throughout the year, said Connelly. The next step is to develop a long-term awareness plan. According to a university press release, this issue will be taken to the city government, asking for tougher laws regarding the abandonment of pets and laws that ban unspayed or un-neutered rabbits, except to licensed breeders.
Connelly said that the university consulted other universities regarding rabbit management issues, but could find none that had similar problems.