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Red Deer resident fears released pet bunnies could cause ‘infestation’ in the city

They are already a garden nuisance, says Glendale resident
Three released pet bunnies are seen relaxing on a lawn in Red Deer’s Glendale neighbourhood. A local resident fears an “infestation.” (Contributed photo).

Dumped pet rabbits are running free in Glendale, creating havoc in gardens and the potential for an “infestation,” says a fed-up Red Deer resident.

The last straw for Crystal Van de ligt was when her pet chihuahua almost got hit by a car on Sunday after chasing one of the rabbits into the road. “We need to do something about this. A lot of people are getting frustrated,” said the woman on Tuesday.

Van de ligt moved onto Gilmore Avenue just over a year ago and has had no end of rabbit problems. “They destroy your flowers, they destroy your vegetables, they wreck everything. They also reproduce like crazy.”

She recently spotted a pair mating on her lawn before she chased them away. She’s now concerned the female will give birth to baby rabbits within a month, who will also then also go on to breed.

Van de ligt fears Red Deer could end up with a Calgary-sized rabbit problem.

In Calgary, coyotes and bobcats have been drawn into city neighbourhoods to snack on released pet rabbits. The former domestic bunnies have also contracted a fatal virus that some biologists fear could spread to the wild rabbit and hare population.

Van de ligt’s search for assistance has hit a series of roadblocks.

She was told Alberta Animal Services (Animal Control) is only contracted by the city to deal with nuisance cats and dogs. The SPCA’s cages are full and the group doesn’t have the staff to trap bunnies. And a private pest control business owner said he would charge about $150 to trap a rabbit, but would then release it at Three Mile Bend, or elsewhere in the city’s treed parts — which she feels wouldn’t solve the problem.

Only the Medicine River Wildlife Centre has been rounding up the former pet rabbits from the streets of Red Deer. The non-profit’s executive-director Carol Kelly estimates anywhere from 30 to 40 rabbits have been trapped from Glendale over the last three to four years.

Her wildlife rescue group deals with domestic rabbit problems to try to stem a potential wildlife disaster.

Kelly pointed out the animal predators that are barging into Calgary neighbourhoods to feast on an easy meal of rabbit. She noted more badger sightings have already been reported in Red Deer.

While centre staff find new homes for the trapped bunnies, more keep turning up in city neighbourhoods — Kelly is now hearing of rabbit problems in Normandeau, while an abandoned nest of dead baby bunnies was recently found in Oriole Park.

Traps were set out on Gilmore Avenue, but about three of the bunnies have been surviving winters, building up their instincts, and managing to avoid being caught, said Kelly. Since the centre has had both traps and trail cameras stolen before, she suggested half a dozen neighbourhood volunteers will be needed to covertly watch the traps while waiting for the bunnies to take the bait.

Meanwhile, if anyone manages to corner a rabbit — even in their garage — Kelly said “We’ll come and take it.”

Amy Fengstad, the City of Red Deer’s parking and licensing supervisor, said an updated Animal Control Bylaw is coming back to council this fall. Given the concern about feral rabbits in North Red Deer, some provisions could be added to it, she added. Options could include expanding the contract with Alberta Animal Services, but Fengstad said the additional costs and benefits would have to be weighed.

Meanwhile, she intends to talk to the Medicine River Wildlife Centre and City of Calgary to get a sense of the extent of the local rabbit problem and what has been done in other jurisdictions to deal with it.

Fengstad urges Red Deerians to turn in their unwanted pet bunnies to shelters, or find them new homes, rather than setting them free to potentially starve, become prey, or a nuisance in the streets of Red Deer.

Lana Michelin

About the Author: Lana Michelin

Lana Michelin has been a reporter for the Red Deer Advocate since moving to the city in 1991.
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