Trapping and saving Canmore's bunnies cost $287 each
Canmore taxpayers have spent total of $29,680 over four months to have feral rabbits trapped and relocated out of the community.
In 56 days of trapping, 189 feral rabbits were caught, which works out to $157 per bunny.
If added to the $130 per rabbit that non-profit Earthanimal Humane Education and Rescue Society (EARS) spent to spay/neuter and house them in permanent sanctuaries, it means every bunny caught in Canmore cost a total of $287 each.
Greg Burt, manager of Protective Services for the Town, said the contractor did not have to euthanize a single rabbit over the course of the program, which saw an actual 56 days of trapping occur.
While the contract began in November, the contractor did not begin trapping until after Christmas for several reasons, including a legal challenge that was eventually dismissed.
Burt said that fact allowed EARS to arrange sanctuaries that met the Town’s standards before trapping began, resulting in the fact none were euthanized.
“This year was a learning year and I don’t think that is any surprise… this is uncharted ground for us,” Burt said. “I am confident in saying we have had quite a few successes.”
Susan Vickery with EARS said the efforts she has made to see the feral rabbits spayed and neutered then relocated into permanent sanctuaries have been a learning experience.
She said now that some of the bugs have been worked out of working together with the municipality, her organization is ready to take the problem on in fall.
“I am feeling very optimistic about it because we have done it and worked through the glitches… we all survived including the rabbits,” Vickery said. “Now that we have gone through that pilot stage… let’s attack this rather aggressively in the fall.”
Burt said with the fact that on average the program costs $10,000 a month, he recommends a $60,000 budget for fall and winter.
He said he would like trapping to resume beginning in October and go until April 1, 2013.
As for the work to occur this fall, $20,000 leftover from the total feral rabbit management plan budget of $50,000 will be used, along with surplus funds from the bylaw services budget.
Vickery added the population of rabbits left in Canmore this summer will not rebound in the way people might expect.
“Typically, there is 80 per cent mortality for bunnies born this summer,” she said, adding due to predation and mishap. “We are not really looking at the population to rebound as fully as people predict.”
Asked if there are less rabbits this spring than before, Burt said the program was not tasked with a population count.
“We have never done a full study on the number of rabbits,” he said. “It was never part of the program.”
However, in the past, administration and council have pegged the population at up to 2,000 animals in the lead up to approving the feral rabbit management plan.
The plan’s goal is to eliminate feral rabbits from the Town of Canmore as they are a wildlife attractant.
Burt said one of the challenges this year has been the fact the trapper was not successfully catching rabbits on municipal lands.
“We found we were not successful,” he said. “The vast majority (caught) was on private property.”
As a result of the initial slow start on municipal land, the program had to shift mid-way through to obtain as many private property access agreements as possible.
Going forward, he said, the program will work on improved private property access before October, which will also provide an estimate for non-profit groups like EARS of how many rabbits to expect.
One way those two work together is that paperwork to allow the contractor on private property will in the future allow landowners to choose whether they want rabbits to go to sanctuaries.
“I feel the vast majority of people will want them to go to sanctuary,” Burt said. “Having this option will make it more successful.”
Vickery agrees giving people the ability to determine that rabbits caught on their property will go to a sanctuary may see more participation in the program.
“If we are able to move forward in the fall, together with sanctuary destinations, a lot more people will come on board with those access agreements,” she said.
Burt also indicated another challenges to the program has been the fact that some residents are feeding the rabbits on their property. It is against the town’s animal bylaw to feed the feral rabbit population.
While a number of tickets were laid, the issue was of concern to deputy mayor Gordie Miskow.
“I think we really need to look at the feeding of these rabbits,” Miskow said, adding feeding any other type of wildlife is taken seriously. “People feeding these creatures have not done any good.”
Burt said bylaw officers will conduct investigations and attend properties to educate residents on the issue.
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