Feral rabbits congregate Tuesday afternoon under a utility trailer parked in a lot off Fireweed Avenue in Soldotna. The animals are growing in number in the neighborhood near the Kenai River bridge.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Evidently, rabbit stew is not a popular dish in Soldotna.
This is clear due to several pronounced feral rabbit populations all over the city that, for the most part, flourish with little threat.
For the past five years, animal control officer Marianne Clark has been dealing directly with feral rabbits, tracking their growth and trying to control their numbers. She does not know the source of these populations but suspects the bunny society originated from someone who let their pets free from their cages, creating a love and hate for the furry little bunnies among Soldotna citizens.
While some people enjoy the company, others see the rascally critters as a nuisance that can possibly invite danger.
According to Clark, the populations have flourished due in part to people feeding them. Although these people may mean well, Clark said they're actually feeding the problem. It is a growing situation created by humans, fueled by humans and left for Clark to clean up.
"People feed them, which puts them in good healthy condition, or prime breeding condition. That makes bigger litters," Clark said, adding that she understands why folks would want to help the rabbits, but that the situation must be contained. After all, owning a rabbit within Soldotna city limits is prohibited, except in rural residential zones.
"I've never dealt with the numbers of this magnitude before," she said. "I heard one report of a man who saw 56 up and down his street one morning. Fish and Game counted a couple hundred in one area."
The growth in numbers of these renegade rabbits is due to the fact that the animals breed like, well, rabbits.
Tom Jahns, University of Alaska Anchorage agriculture land resources district manager, said just one male and one female rabbit can produce more than 100 offspring in one season.
Paul Lacey of Ace Automotive in Soldotna said there was a colony of about 20 feral rabbits around his shop on Tyee Street. However, he believes most of them fell victim to predators early this winter.
"We'd come in and find blood spots. There was a lynx that roamed around like he owned the place. He'd have rabbit breakfasts, rabbit lunches and rabbit dinners. He was pretty good sized," he said.
Marianne Clark transfers a captured rabbit to a holding cell at the Soldotna Animal Shelter. "I've never dealt with the numbers of this magnitude before," she said of the rabbits.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Lacey said three nesting bald eagles in the area also preyed on the bunnies.
"What the lynx didn't get, the eagles did. A bunny can't out-run a diving eagle," Lacey said.
Bringing predators closer to the city is one thing, but angering gardeners is another.
"Usually in the springtime when flower bulbs are coming out, the rabbits have plenty to eat. So they spread out and their populations increase. They have plenty to eat in the summer and that makes them harder to catch. That's also when the complaints increase," Clark said.
Jahns said rabbits wreak havoc on gardens and invite more problems as populations become large and out of control.
"They are extremely destructive to gardens. They chew the bark all the way around a plant or shrub," he said.
Jahns said a handful of rabbits could decimate a garden in a matter of days and could lure in predators, as well.
"They will eat just about any small tree or shrub, which will cost you however much you are willing to spend," he said. "Rabbits are not a plus to home gardeners and home horticulturists."
Kenai Animal Control Officer Brett Reid said there currently is not a rabbit problem in his city, but he does deal with the animals periodically.
"People can't be Dr. Doolittle and have a bunch of rabbits in their backyards if they don't know how to maintain them. A lot of people with good intentions let them go in their yards because they can't manage a herd of rabbits. It's irresponsible," Reid said.
The feral rabbits become a problem after good breeding seasons and mild winters.
"We rarely have to euthanize rabbits because we can place them with people who want them. But what I don't get is why don't people neuter their rabbits. In Europe, it's common to neuter male rabbits. That makes sense. We neuter our dogs and cats here, but it's unheard of to neuter rabbits," he said.
Though people have obviously not taken that precaution, Reid said he is prepared to handle any rabbit problems.
"We can take them in. It's tough love but I'd rather bring them here than to see them starve out there. Domestic animals don't do well in the wild," he said.
Jahns said, like any over-breeding species, disease and starvation will eventually lower the area's rabbit numbers. But until that point, local fans and summer visitors likely will continue to enjoy the insurgency while area gardeners try to rid their crops of the "wascally" intruders.
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