CALGARY — A man’s attempt to stop an Alberta town from trapping and gassing its feral rabbits has missed the mark, but there still may be a benevolent solution to the bountiful bunny problem.
Justice Ged Hawco on Monday dismissed a request for an injunction from photographer and self-professed rabbit fancier Dan Onischuk. The Edmonton man was trying to prevent the community of Canmore from implementing its rabbit reduction program.
The judge said Onischuk didn’t have legal standing and had wasted the court’s time. He pointed out Onischuk isn’t even a resident of the picturesque mountain community on the edge of Banff National Park.
Onischuk was hopping mad when he heard about Canmore’s controversial plan to eliminate up to 2,000 feral rabbits — the offspring of domestic animals that were released into the wild.
“I love bunny rabbits. I’ve always had pet rabbits for … probably 20 years now. They’re wonderful pets. They’re as affectionate as dogs,” Onischuk said outside court.
“Ours follow us around the house and watch TV with us. They like their attention and they are just wonderful beings.”
He had wanted Canmore’s plan stayed to give advocates more time to find a humane way to deal with the bunnies, which the community fears will attract predators such as coyotes and cougars.
“I feel sad because it puts the bunnies in jeopardy and it’s really hard on the young people in the town,” Onischuk said. “Now they’re getting another message that our law system isn’t fair.”
The town’s lawyer said Onischuk would have had to prove that he would have been personally harmed by Canmore’s rabbit reduction strategy.
“Our application was simply that Mr. Onischuk lacked standing. He didn’t have a sufficient interest to hear the application,” said Michael Aasen. “We were instructed to bring a preliminary application and we were successful.”
Canmore has hired a contractor to trap the long-eared hoppers and have them gassed if a deal isn’t worked out with a local animal welfare group to sterilize and relocate them.
That group, called Save Canmore Bunnies, got a boost Monday when it received an offer of help from Calgary Animal Services, which said it will provide free spay and neuter surgeries at its clinic.
“Complimented by the volunteer services of Calgary-area veterinarians and technicians, we are already at the half-way mark in our fundraising goal of $100,000,” said Susan Vickery, founder of Earth Animal Rescue Society, which has been working with Save Canmore Bunnies.
“We are confident we can co-ordinate our collective efforts toward a non-lethal, sanctuary option for all the rabbits of Canmore.”
Canmore Mayor Ron Casey has indicated one of the reasons the town has so many rabbits is that Alberta wildlife officers killed off coyotes in the area a few years ago after some run-ins with children. The rabbit population then exploded because they had no natural predators.
Casey said the bunnies have spread throughout the community, damaged property and, without action, the population will continue to grow.