What others say: Feed the eagles, not the rabbits

  • Sunday, November 15, 2015 5:19pm
  • Opinion

They may be cute and fuzzy, but they’re not to be taken lightly. We are referring to potentially hundreds of feral rabbits that have infiltrated parts of the Mendenhall Valley.

These rabbits need to be taken seriously. Their population boom began about three years ago, experts believe, and today we think they should be treated like any other invasive species in our midst — with little sympathy.

If that sounds harsh, let us explain. There are many good reasons not to feed them, provide them with refuge or turn them in to our local shelter, Gastineau Humane Society. But we’re not advocating for inaction, either. If nothing’s done, they’ll create a problem that is both expensive and potentially dangerous.

We wholeheartedly advocate for these little beasts to be humanely trapped in live traps, and then donated to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, where they will be euthanized and donated to raptor rehabilitation centers, like the Juneau Raptor Center, to help sustain recovering birds of prey.

As we mentioned before, experts don’t know how bad the infestation is — they’re not exactly sure how many rabbits they’re dealing with. That’s understandable — the animals are sneaky, fast and officials have only recently begun to tackle this problem.

But they do know this: rabbits reproduce like, well, rabbits. Gestation for a litter is roughly 31 days. And, a doe (female) can become pregnant again just days after giving birth. Yes. Days.

While many would assume these little critters wouldn’t be able to live in our unpredictable, and often harsh, environment, it seems they have proved us wrong. Perhaps it is the rabbits’ proximity to a population center that has contributed to their growth in numbers. Perhaps it is due to the fact some residents are feeding and providing shelter for these animals. It’s hard to be sure.

However, we talked to Gastineau Humane Society. From January to June of this year, the nonprofit has cared for and spayed or neutered 22 rabbits. That is a sharp increase from years past. In that short time period, those rabbits cost the shelter more than $16,000.

That figure is significantly more per animal than what they spend on cats and dogs. Based on our rough calculation, the cost to care for these rabbits runs about $700 per animal. For dogs and cats it’s significantly lower, and hovers around a couple hundred dollars per animal.

So what drives up the cost of these rabbits? Well, they are extremely fragile when it comes to procedures, and hence they are more expensive to fix. Furthermore, they have a longer average stay at the shelter — from two months to a year. In contrast, dogs and cats often stay at the shelter for far less time, depending on age and breed.

These rabbits are already a huge burden on GHS. Juneau’s rabbit problem only stands to damage the services the shelter strives to provide. As a nonprofit, the shelter operates with a finite pot of money — one that we’d rather be seen spent on finding pets forever homes, not addressing an invasive species issue.

So what should be done? First, the City and Borough of Juneau should adopt an ordinance that allows animal control officers to capture these vermin. Second, any captured rabbits — whether by residents or animal control — should be donated to ADFG so they can, in turn, feed injured or sick raptors in the care of local nonprofits. Third — and perhaps the absolute most important step — stop feeding these rabbits, stop providing them with asylum from the elements and natural predators and do not move them. Let us say it again: Do not move them to another location.

If nothing is done, if no changes to animal control policies are made, disease could be introduced to our wild hare populations, sickness could befall our pets and those illnesses could, in turn, be passed on to humans. Rabbits are notorious for spreading disease.

If you’re going to do anything, trap them in live traps (ADFG and GHS have loaner traps available) and take them to Fish and Game.

In the end, feed the eagles and not the rabbits.

— Juneau Empire,

Nov. 8

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