Richmond’s wild rabbit population not declining despite management efforts: city report

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Despite several different strategies over the past two years, the wild rabbit population does not appear to be decreasing, according to a city report

The City of Richmond’s attempts to control the wild rabbit just can’t seem to keep pace with its growing population.

Not only do they pose health risks to native species – by spreading Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease – these non-native rabbits also damage natural habitats.

“The environmental impacts are evident, and based on reported sightings, rabbits are moving to environmentally sensitive areas such as Terra Nova Park and new landscapes such as Aberdeen Park and Paulik Neighborhood Park,” reads a report on wild rabbits visiting council parks, recreation and cultural services committee next week.

Despite several different strategies over the past two years, the wild rabbit population does not appear to be declining.

“Although rabbit control efforts have been successful where they have been employed, the prolific breeding of rabbits often exceeds the current capacity of service providers,” reads the report.

Since 2020, when a pilot program was launched, the city has been working with the rabbits to humanely capture, neuter, and relocate rabbits to one of the nonprofit sanctuaries.

Between December 2020 and June 2021, 61 adult wild rabbits were captured. All but one of the rabbits were pregnant, resulting in the birth of 28 more rabbits at the sanctuary.

Wild rabbits, which are domestic rabbits – or their offspring – that have been abandoned or escaped outdoors, are largely European rabbits and are classified as an invasive species.

Richmond banned the sale of rabbits in pet stores in 2010, and owners can have no more than two pet rabbits per household.

Feeding animals, including rabbits, in any public park or school grounds, and releasing any animal in these areas, is also prohibited by municipal bylaws.

Due to their adaptability, lack of natural predators and prolific reproduction, wild rabbits can “rapidly outcompete” native rabbit species, according to the report. Rabbits also feed on native plants and shrubs, resulting in damage and loss of natural habitat, and have been reported in and around farmland.

“Additionally, because wild rabbits are transient and often seek out new living spaces, they often invade roads and can pose a safety risk to motorists,” the report said.

In 2020 the city launched a pilot program with Rabbitats to help manage the feral rabbit population in the Dover district.

Through the program, Rabbits trapped, neutered and vaccinated rabbits in the area against Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHD) and transferred them to one of their sanctuaries.

This program continued into 2021 and Rabbitats were asked to respond to reports of wild rabbit sightings in Richmond. A total of 118 rabbits were removed from public property and moved to a sanctuary that year.

In the report, city staff propose raising public awareness in 2022 and continuing to work with rabbits to manage wild rabbit populations, with the city donating up to $15,000 to the nonprofit organization.

City staff will also consider developing a wild rabbit management study for a “comprehensive, proactive and sustainable response specific to wild rabbits.” This includes identifying the extent of Richmond’s wild rabbit population, where they are concentrated and population trends.

The study will be funded from the Invasive Species operating budget and is not expected to exceed $25,000.

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