Rodica Balaj, who is known as Julia in the bunny world, with Elsa, a feral rabbit she rescued in Fleetwood earlier this summer. (Photo: Amy Reid)

Feral rabbits in Fleetwood causing concern

Fleetwood woman organizing talk to deal with bunny problem in Surrey

SURREY — A Fleetwood woman says something has to be done about feral rabbits running wild in her neighbourhood.

“When I realized it’s true, that a colony is growing, my first thought was UVIC rabbits,” said Rodica Balaj. “If we don’t do something about it, the city will have to.”

In 2011, the University of Victoria became home to more than 1,500 feral bunnies after people in the community abandoned rabbits there. Some were killed and others were sent to sanctuaries.

Balaj, who has been rescuing, caring for and re-homing rabbits since 2012, is organizing a meeting to educate locals and to find people to help her deal with the “fast multiplication and territory expansion” of the rabbits before it gets out of hand.

“If we do not do anything about it right away, it can end up with the city ordering that all (the) rabbits be killed,” said Balaj, who also runs her Bunny Homes blog (bunnyhomes.blogspot.ca) that helps people adopt and learn about the animals.

Balaj said she first saw a feral rabbit in her Fleetwood area, near 156th Street and 86th Avenue, in the summer of 2016.

“I caught the rabbit,” she said, “and it was a female, and I cared for her…. There are actually lots of rabbits here in Fleetwood, this was the first one that had reached my home.”

Then this summer, she saw many more.

“Last June I caught a white rabbit with black eyeliner,” she said. “I call her Elsa. I’ve been keeping her for a couple of months because I didn’t know how old she was. I’m planning to have her spayed and re-homed. I put her on Adopt-a-Pet.”

Since she saw a small colony at least a year ago, she estimated there’s at least dozens now.

rabbitphoto

A photo Rodica Balaj took of a feral rabbit in Fleetwood.

“Also, they started spreading,” she said. “I’ve seen them on the McDonalds property (at Fraser Highway and 156th Street). Last June I took a picture of Elsa’s sister and she was fine. Two weeks ago I saw her again and she was missing an eye. So obviously somebody hurt her or an animal hurt her. The same day I caught Elsa, I saw remains of rabbit legs next to the road.”

Balaj said her efforts to deal with the area’s feral rabbits are spurred by her desire to help the animals, but also to prevent the unintended consequences for the community as the animals reproduce rapidly.

“Every 28 days (the rabbits) can have a litter of four to 12,” she said. “(If) we kill the rabbits and we have a bunch of coyotes, they will be hungry and could kill our pets and possibly attack young children.”

This isn’t Balaj’s first time dealing with feral rabbits. In 2012, she was involved with a rabbit population problem at the Richmond Auto Mall.

“I caught the first 13 animals there after they received the approvals and helped build a sanctuary for them: tall fencing, separating into smaller areas,” she explained. “It was inside a tall, huge building. They were having a problem, they were getting run over by cars.”

They still have a couple dozen rabbits there, said Balaj, and some have been sent to other organizations.

She stressed that it’s important residents refrain from feeding the animals.

“I knew from the Richmond Auto Mall that these rabbits, the colony grows fast. By helping them, feeding them encourages the colony to grow.”

Balaj, who said she’s known as Julia in the bunny rescue world, hopes to conduct a bunny count to find out how many rabbits are truly residing in the area.

At her meeting, she will be inviting people to sign up to volunteer “to spot the rabbits to create a map, where they are, and hopefully to do a count of them. I’m also talking to other rescues about the possibility of getting some help, and I also need volunteers to help build backyard hutches that are proper habitats for rabbits and with that, to encourage them, why don’t we catch them and keep them in your backyard safely so coyotes and raccoons don’t get to them.”

Balaj said she hasn’t yet contacted the city but intends to approach city officials with a plan.

“I want to have a group, people who care about rabbits. Some of them might not want to have a rabbit, but might be willing to help with the problem.”

Balaj said she began caring for bunnies began after she was sick after a car accident, and noticed there were lots of rabbits on Craigslist.

“I started visiting people who were giving rabbits away and one of them told me that she is taking all the rabbit babies she can find because people with snakes take them for free and feed them to snakes. That kind of created a reaction in me because I didn’t think these lovely, affectionate, furry animals should be fed alive to other pets. It got me angry.”

Within a month, she had about 36 animals, and by her estimate, she’s re-homed about 500 rabbits and now focuses more of her efforts on educating people about the animals, such as how to handle behavioural issues.

Currently, she has five rabbits, and said she now is able to spend more time in her work as a counsellor.

But her love for bunnies, and the worry of the problems they will bring, motivate her to help.

“I’m trying to make a difference with the feral rabbits in my neighbourhood.”

The meeting is set for Sept. 16th from noon to 1 p.m. at the Fleetwood Community Centre (15996 84th Ave.).

To register for the meeting or to get involved, email bunnyhomes@gmail.com.

Balaj is currently looking for a home for Elsa the bunny. Find more information at adoptapet.com/bunny-homes/pet/elsa.

amy.reid@surreynowleader.com

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Rodica Balaj, who is known as Julia in the bunny world, with Elsa, a feral rabbit she rescued in Fleetwood earlier this summer. (Photo: Amy Reid)

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