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Rescue in offing for rabbits living at View Royal highway interchange

A rescue is in the works for a rapidly growing colony of rabbits at the Helmcken Road/Trans-Canada Highway interchange.
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Wednesday: Rabbits have taken over a median at the Helmcken Road exit on the Trans-Canada Highway. Passersby have been leaving carrots, celery and even plates of food.

A rescue is in the works for a rapidly growing colony of rabbits at the Helmcken Road/Trans-Canada Highway interchange.

Veterinarian Laurie Gaines and University of Victoria law student Erin Gray appealed last week to View Royal council to support their plan to trap, sterilize and relocate the 60-odd rabbits that have taken up residence on the median.

They estimate the plan will cost between $10,000 and $20,000, depending on the location of the sanctuary chosen. Gaines has recruited a number of colleagues, including 12 veterinarians and 20 veterinary assistants, who have volunteered to do the surgery. The money would pay for anesthetic drugs and supplies, transport and continuing support for the rabbits once relocated.

A sanctuary in Texas has been identified as a possible destination.

“Ideally, we’d like them to go somewhere closer, but I’m not sure if we’ll find a closer sanctuary that’s appropriate. We want them to go to a good place. That’s the most important thing,” said Gaines, who lives in Shawnigan Lake and works in Victoria.

“I drive by them every day on my way to work and I just want to help them. That [median] is not a good place for them to live.”

View Royal Mayor David Screech agrees that something has to be done about the rabbits. He worries an accident could be caused by motorists stopping to leave the rabbits food and water.

The municipality has written to the province asking it to take action, he said. In response, signs were erected saying it is an offence to stop on the ramp.

“They [motorists] are still doing it, regardless of the signs,” Screech said.

View Royal is also beginning to get complaints from nearby residents, he said. “Because, of course, the bunnies are now migrating off the median and moving into their neighbourhoods and burrowing under houses and things like that.”

View Royal council agreed to write to the Ministry of Transportation, which has responsibility for the highway, in support of the issuance of necessary permits to neuter and relocate the animals.

“We didn’t really take a position on their plan per se, but we certainly have a position that there’s a growing problem there,” Screech said.

“Like with the deer, it’s only going to get worse and we would like to see it solved. So if these people can solve it, then we think that’s great.”

A provincial Ministry of Transportation spokesperson said the province would like to find a solution, too.

“Our primary concern is the safety of the travelling public, as the rabbits are creating a distraction for drivers,” the spokesperson said. “We are asking drivers to not stop along the roadside to watch or feed the rabbits, as it creates a potential traffic hazard.”

Rabbit relocation is nothing new in Greater Victoria.

The University of Victoria’s rabbit problem came to a head in 2010 in what some called the battle of the bunnies. The university had decided on a cull, but animal rescue groups stepped in to try to find suitable rabbit sanctuaries and persuade the province to grant permits to move the animals.

More than 100 rabbits were culled before UVic agreed to a sanctuary program, and 902 were turned over after being spayed or neutered. In March 2011, the campus was declared rabbit-free.

Gaines and Gray say they are not yet set up as a non-profit, but people wanting to donate to the cause can do so by calling the Hillside Veterinary Clinic.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

Map, bunnies at the Helmcken Road interchange, Feb. 8, 2015