BC’s policy on rabbits ignores causes and puts animals at risk

Photo of an Eastern Cottontail Rabbit
An Eastern cottontail rabbit. Photo by mirceax / Getty Images

Regulatory changes to “control” feral rabbits are now in place, following government changes to the Wildlife Act in British Columbia. The Fur-Bearers are criticizing these changes as they do not address root causes and can result in the unchecked keeping and killing of wildlife across the province.

Through changes to the Designation and Exemption Regulations, the government has removed protections for European and Eastern cottontail rabbits, listed as Schedule C species under the regulations.

In a May webinar hosted by the Invasive Species Council of BC, a presentation from the Ministry of Forests outlined that one of the outcomes of these changes were to “remove Schedule C rabbits from the land.” These changes include:

  • European and Eastern cottontail rabbits will no longer be allowed to be relocated or released into the wild.
  • European rabbits (captive or not) and cottontails will no longer require a permit for trafficking, possession, or export. This removes permitting requirements for municipalities or other groups to trap and transport rabbits to rehabiliation centres or homes (or to euthanize/kill them).

These changes do not address the root causes which result in increased numbers of rabbits in the lower mainland and Vancouver Island. European rabbits continue to be introduced to the province through the unregulated rabbit breeding sector, online and retail store sales of rabbits, and frequent “dumping” of former pets. A further concern is that these changes make it illegal for wildlife rescue organizations to release rehabilitated cottontail rabbits back into the wild.

The Fur-Bearers are imploring Minister Conroy and Ministry of Forests staff to work with the Ministry of Agriculture and BC municipalities to curb the breeding and selling, as well as dumping, of these rabbits before implementing policy with far-reaching consequences. Unless the government takes steps to address root causes, the cycle of breeding and killing will never end.

This article was updated June 27 while clarity on language from the government news release was sought.

A photo of an eastern cottontail rabbit


Letter Writing Campaign

Residents are encouraged to contact their MLA and local municipal representatives to urge them to implement sales prohibitions on rabbits and address root causes such as breeding and dumping. You can find your BC MLA by clicking here and find contact information for your municipality by clicking here. Include a carbon copy to the Ministry of Agriculture (AGR.Minister@gov.bc.ca) and consider using these points:

  • Breeding of the rabbit species in question is currently unregulated and legal in British Columbia.
  • Dumping or abandonment of rabbits is illegal under provincial Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, but little education or promotion of this is undertaken, and volume of enforcement is unknown.
  • Encouraging or allowing residents to “take” wildlife from nature, regardless of species, sends a counterproductive message for public health and safety, as well as conflict prevention.
  • Not allowing permitted medical facilities to rehabilitate and release wild cottontail rabbits puts the onus of a government action on volunteer and non-profit organizations to kill or forever keep rabbits; such policy may also result in a lack of resources to ensure humane treatment of rabbits.
  • No scientific evidence or studies have been presented to the public as part of the Ministry of Forest’s decision. As such, what impact on ecosystems a rapid removal of rabbits could have remains unknown.
  • Municipalities can regulate the sale of rabbits in retail stores and should consider enacting such by-laws; the province should provide technical and infrastructure-related support to these efforts.
  • The Ministry of Forestry, from which this policy originates, is unable to regulate pet stores, breeding and other source causes due to its limited scope; it will require a holistic government approach to ensure humane treatment of rabbits, ecological integrity, and prevention of future dumping.
  • Request a meeting or follow-up to find out how they plan to get involved.
  • Always be polite, respectful, and courteous – any threats, foul language, or perception of these may result in a communication being dismissed or attention drawn away from the issue.

Why Not A Petition or One-Click Action?

As noted above, the Ministry of Forestry is unable to make legislative or policy changes outside of their scope in relation to European and Eastern cottontail rabbits. Curbing the online and retail sale of rabbits, unregulated breeding, and dumping will require direct assistance from multiple levels of government, including municipal and numerous provincial agencies. Direct communication from voting, taxpaying constituents is always the most effective way to get local representatives engaged and taking action. 

Other Ways To Help

  • Volunteer! Wildlife rehabilitators and animal sanctuaries are always in need of volunteers for a variety of tasks, from driving to direct care.
  • Donate! Just as important as volunteers are donations of frequently required items (towels, cleaning supplies, etc.) and financial support. Always check before donating items, but most rehabilitators and rescues have online donation portals.
  • Consider Fostering! On their way to a forever home, rabbits may need a safe place to spend a few days or weeks. Check with a local rabbit rescue or sanctuary to find out if your home is appropriate to be a foster home.
  • Spread The Word! Helping issues such as this breakthrough the social media and traditional media cycles can be difficult. Sharing our action page and others help spread the word about the issue and get more people involved in making change happen.

Rabbit Resources in BC

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Established in 1953, The Fur-Bearers is a charitable, non-partisan organization whose goals are to end the commercial fur trade and promote solutions for wildlife coexistence in communities. Your donation is tax-deductible. Charitable registration number: 130006125RR0002

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