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Advocates hopping mad over rabbit treatment

Rabbits peek out from under a shed at Minoru Park earlier this year. - Cindy Howard photo
Rabbits peek out from under a shed at Minoru Park earlier this year.
— image credit: Cindy Howard photo

Fur is flying in Minoru Park where a recent move by parks workers to fill in rabbit holes has raised the ire of a local rabbit advocacy group.

Bandaids for Bunnies accused the city Tuesday of "burying rabbits alive" by packing soil into holes around an equipment shed at Latrace Field.

"One can only imagine how many dead rabbits are under the shed given their decreasing numbers as noticed by local residents," said the group on its Facebook page.

City spokesperson Ted Townsend said city crews routinely fill holes in the park because they pose a "significant tripping hazard."

"We have a legal responsibility to address that in the interest of public safety, and this particular area gets a lot of use in the summer," said Townsend, adding holes around the shed were filled with loose soil, which wildlife is able to burrow through.

But rabbit rescuers were angered by the move and twice dug new holes for the rabbits—once removing wooden boards that covered the fresh dirt.

Townsend said the city doesn't know who placed the boards on the rabbit real estate, but suggested someone might have done so to assist in the moving of equipment stored in the shed. Anyone who digs new holes would be damaging public property and would potentially be liable if anything happened as a result, he added.

"Our policy is not to try and interfere with the rabbits. We just let them live our their natural life cycle."

In 2010, Richmond banned the retail sale of rabbits in an effort to control large populations of the abandoned pets—many of whom make homes in Minoru Park, Richmond Nature Park and the Richmond Auto Mall property.

"This issue is basically caused by people abandoning rabbits in our parks and open spaces, so everybody needs to be responsible in the care of rabbits, and not just abandoning them when they decide they no longer want them as a pet," said Townsend.

Cindy Howard, who runs Richmond-based Bandaids for Bunnies with Krystal Grimm, doesn't agree with the city's practice of covering holes, which she said can lead to the death of the animals.

"We were out there (Minoru Park) this morning and one of the rabbits is pregnant and is going to have babies at any moment. She will probably go under that shed, because that's part of her home, and have the babies there," said Howard. "Newborn babies cannot dig themselves out."

Bandaids for Bunnies formed last fall, and currently has 47 rabbits in its care. The group offers the animals up for adoption through its website, bandaidsforbunnies.com.

Howard wants the city to create a sanctuary for the rabbits to live safely—as Delta has done—and crack down on so-called "dumpers."

"They need to start taking a stand with the people that cause the problem," she said. "We've literally had people call and say, 'I just saw someone open their car door and let out two rabbits.'"

In Delta, rabbits in the municipality's civic precinct have been captured, sterilized and released in an island park across town. On Vancouver Island, University of Victoria recently relocated more than 900 rabbits to sanctuaries and declared its campus rabbit free in spring 2011.

Richmond City Hall is in the midst of developing an urban wildlife strategy. Due sometime this year, the strategy is expected to offer council recommendations on how to deal with out-of-control wildlife populations.

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