Increase in feral rabbits spurs calls to Calgary city councillor

WATCH ABOVE: Calgary City Councillor Sean Chu brought up concerns over the unusual number of hares jumping around the city. Global’s Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports on what’s behind the population explosion.

Calgarians concerned about the number of feral rabbits in some areas of the city have been calling and emailing Coun. Sean Chu, he told council Monday.

Chu asked the city what could be done about the problem, but was told since the rabbits are wild, they’re under provincial Fish and Wildlife jurisdiction.

“The preponderance of rabbits out in the community are jackrabbits, for the most part, which are not domesticated rabbits,” community services and protective services general manager Kurt Hansen said.

He said the city’s jurisdiction only includes domestic rabbits, but was willing to help address the issue.

“We certainly can work with you offline to provide additional information about where those concerns should be brought and we can provide that to members of council, as well.”

READ MORE: Owls to rabbits – what to do when wildlife is born early in Alberta

Fish and Wildlife spokesperson Brendan Cox told Global News the department’s enforcement officers respond to dangerous wildlife incidents and “rabbits do not typically fall within the officers’ purview.”

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“We would recommend residents take steps to prevent animals from frequenting their property by removing any food attractants and closing off spaces underneath decks of stairs with wire mesh. Reducing thick foliage on your property also encourages animals to move on by limiting available shelter. Motion sensing lights can also deter animals.”

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The Calgary Wildlife Rehabilitation Society said staff have seen a 32 per cent increase in the number of animals the centre has received in the past year. Animal care operations manager Jenna McFarland said hares normally produce three litters, but because of a longer breeding season they’re producing up to six litters with four to 10 hares each this year.

“Because we had a beautiful early warm spring where the grass came up really early, the hares started breeding early,” McFarland told Global News.

READ MORE: Rabbit found shot with arrow, for second time in a month

She said the animals she’s seen are white-tailed prairie hares—or jackrabbits—which are very well-suited for Calgary’s winter climate.

“People certainly call us with complaints that their gardens are being nibbled,” she said. “But for the most part, they occupy a lot of our parks and green spaces where they are just kind of keeping the grass short and keeping the dandelions at bay.

“They don’t really cause a huge impact for people in the city but they do end up on the roads; they do get hit by cars quite a bit.”

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A City of Calgary spokesperson provided a summary of the 311 service requests staff have received related to dead rabbits on the road in the past two years:

Month (rabbits)20162015

MacFarland said she’s seen a “definite decrease” in larger predators within the city limits, like coyotes and foxes, which are the type of animals that “take care of those big populations of hares.”

She added the hare population fluctuates over time and it’s hard to tell what kind of impact it might have on other wildlife within Calgary.

“I always assume that more food sources out there for hawks and owls and foxes and coyotes means that they’re going to be more successful over the winter,” she said. “We will have to wait and see what happens next spring. That’s when we’ll see the reflection in those numbers.”

READ MORE: Fat squirrels, exposed hares, sad skaters – Winners and losers in Canada’s balmy December

With files from NewsTalk 770 and Global’s Carolyn Kury de Castillo