Banff moving fast to remove rabbits
A spate of recent rabbit sightings in the Banff townsite has led Parks Canada to set live traps in a bid to avoid any chance of a population boom as seen in neighbouring Canmore over the past decade.
Officials say they believe the rabbits in Banff are escaped pets, not feral rabbits that have made a 25 kilometre journey from Canmore – where that municipality is fighting to get rid of an estimated 2,000 rabbits.
“We just want to get on top of it before it becomes a problem like Canmore has,” said Blair Fyton, a Parks Canada human-wildlife conflict specialist in Banff National Park.
“If we can deal with this in the initial stages, then it will be a lot easier than dealing with multiple rabbits on the landscape – and a lot cheaper.”
There have been half a dozen to a dozen sightings of non-native rabbits in the 200 and 300 blocks of Muskrat Street and Beaver Street in the last couple of weeks, though there is no estimate on how many rabbits are actually on the loose.
Under an interim agreement with the Town of Banff, Parks Canada set two live traps on private property in the neighbourhood with the permission of property owners, but so far has had no luck in catching any rabbits.
Lettuce and carrots were used to try to lure the rabbits into the traps, but trapping has been temporarily suspended because rabbits seem to prefer the green vegetation in town.
“We’re going to give it a bit of break and try again once the vegetation dies off,” Fyton said. “There’s just so much vegetation for them to eat that we’re having trouble attracting them.”
Tony Clark, the Town of Banff’s Bylaw Services supervisor, said he believes the rabbits are escaped pets from one, possibly two, residential properties in that area of town.
He said the Town plans to visit some homes to talk to rabbit owners.
“There is a resident, or maybe more, that do have pet rabbits, and we could possibly be dealing with a case of pet rabbits getting out from time to time,” he said.
“I would highly doubt they would be from Canmore. I don’t know a heck of a lot about rabbits, but I guess, as just a layman, it would seem to me a little difficult.”
The Town of Banff’s Animal Services Bylaw limits the number of rabbits to no more than four on any residential property, and they must be kept in clean and sanitary pens.
Under the bylaw, if complaints arise from keeping rabbits, or damage is done to another person’s property, council has the power to direct the owners to “restrain, dispose of or destroy” the rabbits.
Clark said owners could also face a fine of $100 for having rabbits at large and pay an extra $35 fee to get them released from the municipality’s holding area in the compound.
“We need to let people know that if it’s pet rabbits getting out, then they do need to keep them contained and there could be consequences and they could be fined,” he said.
Clark said once a rabbit is captured – in the same way as it would be for a domestic dog or a cat – Bylaw Services would then attempt to find the owner of the animal.
“We have a requirement to keep it for 72 hours, at which time we can open to adoption,” he said. “The bylaw does allow disposal through sale or euthanasia,” he said.
Fyton said Parks is concerned non-native rabbits could draw carnivores like cougars and coyotes into town, posing a risk to people’s safety and ultimately be a threat to the wildlife, too.
He said Parks Canada’s highest priority is to ensure ecological integrity is maintained in the national park.
“In order to have that, we have to have a whole complement of native plants and animals that would normally exist here,” Fyton said. “By having a non-native species such as domesticated rabbits, it poses a threat to the uniqueness and individuality of Banff National Park.”
The Bow Valley Naturalists are glad to hear Parks Canada and the Town of Banff are getting on top of the issue quickly.
“The initial concern is that they will multiply and continue to spread and we know the problems that that can create; you just have to look at Canmore,” said Mike McIvor, the group’s president.
“As far as I am concerned, in the town of Banff in Banff National Park, there should be no pets of any kind running or flying loose, whether it’s rabbits, pigeons, cats or dogs.”
In neighbouring Canmore, the municipality estimates the feral rabbit population is around 2,000. The population has boomed since the 1980s when it’s believed a few pet rabbits escaped or were released.
The Town of Canmore hired a contractor to begin trapping feral rabbits last winter, catching 189 rabbits in 56 days before stopping in spring. Trapping is expected to resume this fall.
The Earthanimal Humane Education and Rescue Society (EARS) arranged sanctuaries that met the Town of Canmore’s standards before trapping began, resulting in no rabbits being euthanized in the first round of trapping.
Last November and December, there were several sightings of one domestic rabbit on the south side of the Bow River in Banff, but there were no follow-up reports.
In 2009, a rabbit was seen hanging out in Banff’s industrial compound in the north end of town, prompting Parks Canada to capture and take it to a farm in Alberta.
Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen said she’s pleased the Town of Banff and Parks Canada is working on this together.
“I’m satisfied with that plan of action at this time,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Town of Banff asks residents to immediately report any sightings of rabbits at large to 403-762-1218, or fill out at action request on the Town’s website at www.banff.ca
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