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Banff bounces around idea to limit pet rabbits

BANFF – A proposal to prevent a future feral rabbit infestation in Banff similar to the one plaguing neighbouring Canmore has hopped onto the discussion table.
Feral Rabbits
A feral rabbit in Canmore pokes its head up over a rock.

BANFF – A proposal to prevent a future feral rabbit infestation in Banff similar to the one plaguing neighbouring Canmore has hopped onto the discussion table.

Banff council has postponed further consideration of amendments to the animal services bylaw, wanting administration to explore options such as limits on the number of pet rabbits allowed per household, or a spay or neutering program.

Town of Banff officials say 13 domesticated animals have been live trapped at various locations around town and relocated out of the national park townsite in the last four years.

“I’m inclined to say rabbits are allowed if neutered, or if they’re on their own, but not in pairs or more. We know that our neighbours in Canmore have a real problem with this,” said Councillor Peter Poole, who raised the issue at council’s Dec. 17 meeting.

“I don’t want to have some 10-year-old boy or girl that dearly loves his or her rabbit or gets a rabbit this Christmas saying ‘hey, the Grinch just stole my rabbit’ … but we need to look at this so that rabbits do not populate the community and go feral.”

Canmore’s feral rabbit problem began in the 1980s, when a dozen or more domesticated rabbits were released in town.

The Town of Canmore hired a contractor in 2012 to live trap and humanely euthanize rabbits every year, with trapping set to resume in January, 2019. About 1,275 rabbits have been caught since the program began at a cost $381,300.

At the time trapping started, the rabbit population was roughly estimated to be about 2,000, and although there is no estimate now, short gestation periods and large litters can mean a population can bump from two to 70 within one year.

Banff’s current animal services bylaw limits the number of rabbits to no more than four on any residential property, and the pets 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.

Many of the rabbits trapped in the Banff townsite over the past four years were relocated through the Earth Animal Rescue Society (EARS), with seven going to a few different rabbit sanctuaries in the Calgary area and one to Victoria, B.C.

More recently, three rabbits were relocated to a private ranch with a rabbit sanctuary northwest of Cochrane.  As well, one rabbit that died in captivity.

Tony Clark, the Town of Banff’s bylaw services supervisor, said rabbits are trapped based on calls, or complaints.

“We obviously don’t go looking for them, but when we get a complaint, and if one keeps returning to a property, we’ll ask permission to install a live humane trap,” he said.

“Hopefully, we’ll catch them, but we’re not that successful and I think natural selection is a part of that. There’s definitely more calls than what we catch.”

The Bow Valley human-wildlife coexistence task force recommended removal of feral rabbits in Canmore to keep predators such as cougars and wolves out of town in its final report issued earlier this year.

In addition to being a wildlife attractant, feral rabbits also cause damage to public and private property, and leave behind a significant amount of feces.

Coun. Chip Olver said she supports putting a limit on the number of pet rabbits per household, adding knowing what happened in Canmore should be a good incentive to do so.

“If you do start to get a population that becomes an infestation that’s so detrimental to the community,” said Coun. Olver. “It would be nice to be on top of it.”

Council also wants to look at options for limiting the number of cats and dogs on a property.

“We also need further information on how we might address an excess number of domestic animals of any type,” said Coun. Olver.

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