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Rescuers round up hundreds of feral rabbits at Richmond Auto Mall

Unless there’s a used Rabbit for sale at the Cowell Volkswagen dealership, the Richmond Auto Mall is pretty much bunny-free for the first time in a long time.

There were between 350 and 400 feral rabbits hopping around the dealerships at Smallwood Place five or six years ago. Today almost all have been rounded up and spayed or neutered.

All but 75 have found homes.

“They were overwhelmed for years,” said Sorelle Saidman, founder and director of the rescue group Rabbitats. “It’s the first time in a decade the Richmond Auto Mall has been free of wild rabbits, and just in time for Easter.”

The number of rabbits — many dropped off by folks who got tired of looking after them and the rest their progeny — waned and waxed over the years, said auto mall general manager Gail Terry.

“We’ve had waves where the number of rabbits would increase for a period, but nature kind of took care of itself,” she said.

“The Richmond Nature Park is next door. Coyotes, hawks, there are all sorts of critters in there and they sort of discovered the rabbits in the auto mall.”

But five or six years ago, the number of feral rabbits ballooned, creating quite a problem, Terry said. That’s when she got in touch with Rabbitats.

“It’s irresponsible pet owners doing the drop-offs and not thinking of the consequences of that,” said Terry, nearing her 29th anniversary at the auto mall. “What was a cute little population of 15 or 20 bunnies quickly turned into hundreds.”

Rabbits’ reputation as prodigious procreators is well-earned. Grass, shrubs, hedges and flower beds at the auto mall all started to disappear.

“They were eating everything in sight,” Terry said.

Then there was the matter of, um, roadkill. People, after all, were dropping off their no-longer-cute-and-welcome-as-pets rabbits in Western Canada’s largest car lot.

“It happened way too frequently,” Terry said of the deaths by car.

“Every day I’d drive in holding my breath until I saw whether the lane was clear. I had garbage bags, a shovel and newspaper in the back of my vehicle.”

When the 14 dealerships approached her to deal with the problem, she told them there were three options: Do nothing and watch the landscaping disappear; hire exterminators (bad p.r.); or work with Rabbitats, which had removed 903 rabbits from the University of Victoria campus a couple of years previous.

“It’s my responsibility the mall looks good,” she said. “I’m a steadfast animal lover and I said leave it with me.

“Evidently it can work, where others said it couldn’t.”

Now the three “Rabbits On Road” traffic signs can come down.

After cutting through seemingly endless red tape so they could trap the rabbits and not kill them, Rabbitats got to work a couple of years ago.

“These rabbits stick very close to humans,” Saidman said.

“They’re very smart. They know the coyotes won’t get them from the steps of a human-populated area.”

The dealerships at the auto mall have been generous, providing space, paying for spaying and neutering, and supplying a van for rabbit rescues.

Saidman would like to turn the Rabbitats space next to Applewood Nissan into a Rabbit Cafe, although food wouldn’t be served.

But it would be a place people go venture into and pet bunnies, perhaps fall in love and take one home.

“One thing that sets it aside from a petting zoo,” Saidman said, “is it’s designed so the rabbits can go into their little houses. It’s kid proof.”

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