Valdez hopping with rabbits

Posted: Friday, September 09, 2005

ANCHORAGE — Maybe it’s Easter every day in Valdez.

Maybe it’s some kind of Peter Rabbit tale come to life.

There’s a bunny boom in this small town best known as the end point of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.

Dozens of domesticated rabbits are hopping around this summer, delighting European tourists, annoying local gardeners and provoking the town’s animal control officer.

For the best rabbit hunting, take a stroll along Fidalgo Drive near downtown. Go around dusk. That’s when the bunnies really come out to forage and play.

Look over there, on the grassy lawn down by the Coast Guard dock — one black one, two gray, two brown.

Farther down the street, behind the convention center, three more munch tender leaves and blades of grass.

In the nearby Bear Paw Tent Campground, it’s rabbits galore.

‘‘Tiny ones, big ones, they’re all over the place,’’ says Stefan Muller, a 25-year-old traveler from Switzerland cooking his supper on a gas stove. ‘‘It’s amazing. I hope they don’t get in my tent and start eating.’’

‘‘Anybody seen my pet rabbit?’’ I ask another camper.

‘‘What color you want?’’ replies David Dunn, a Peters Creek resident visiting Valdez to hook silver salmon.

Shana Anderson, the town’s animal control officer, says the community rabbits have been around for years but they’re especially abundant this summer. She’s a little worried about it.

‘‘It’s rabbits out of control,’’ she says. ‘‘I’m really serious. It’s something I’m looking into doing something about.’’

Just where the rabbits came from is a matter of considerable folklore among the locals. Some say a former RV park operator on the spit, across the harbor from downtown, allowed a breeding pair to proliferate several years ago.

The population jumps and crashes, they say, as predators including lynx and bald eagles come into town and make meals of the rabbits.

Generally, tourist and townsfolk alike seem to like and defend the bunnies, which prick up their long ears, wiggle their noses and hop away if you get too close.

‘‘I love the bunnies,’’ says Wendy Zwickl, who works at the National Weather Service office in Valdez. ‘‘It’s like watching Darwin’s theory. You have black bunnies, you have gray bunnies, they have babies that are Oreo-colored.’’

Zwickl likes them so much that she’s even called the cops after seeing less-friendly sorts loose their beagles on the bunnies or shoot them with slingshots.

Valdez’s rabbits are not only cute. They look surprisingly healthy. Some residents say a woman who lives near the harbor does a good job of feeding them.

Dave Cobb, who runs the Valdez fish hatchery and sits on the City Council, doesn’t see any problem with the bunnies.

‘‘Tourists like them and little kids like them,’’ he says.

Anderson, the town’s animal control officer, says she has no idea how many rabbits Valdez has.

Hundreds, maybe?

‘‘I hope not!’’ she says.

But it might be time to trap and relocate some of them, Anderson says. She doubts the rabbits are a health hazard, but they could cause other trouble.

‘‘The only thing that I worry about is changing the environment. I mean, you’re going to bring in predators. You’re providing food for them,’’ she says.

Besides, she says, not everybody wants a bunny around. She’s taken complaints from residents who say the rabbits get under their trailers and chew up wires.

‘‘I get a lot of complaints about them going into people’s gardens and annihilating their flowers,’’ she said. ‘‘They’re nuisance animals. Of course, they’re cute and everybody loves bunnies.’’

Jessica Thompson, who runs a kayaking outfit with husband Kenny Blum, says rabbits dug out the planter boxes in front of her Harbor Drive shop last week. She could tell from the bunny poop lying around.

‘‘I don’t care,’’ she says. ‘‘The flowers are on their last legs anyway.’’

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