April 7, 2010
“Debunking the disinformation, the University of Victoria and the campus rabbits”
A report by Roslyn Cassells, Canada’s first elected Green
“Trapping may, however, be a necessary precursor to a shooting program in order to improve the defensibility of shooting…” from a report by LGL Ltd., Environmental Research Associates, July 24, 2008, commissioned by the University of Victoria, and excerpted from “Feral Rabbit Inventory, Selected Areas of the University of Victoria Campus”
The University of Victoria has been for years conducting a misinformation campaign in order to justify their killing of abandoned domestic rabbits on campus. In order to get a clear view of the situation it is necessary to debunk the university’s purposeful misrepresentations, omissions of the facts and issues, a number of blatant fabrications, and examples of deliberate fear mongering.
The tactics used by the university are neither unique nor inventive, but their practise exposes the institution to public criticism and loss of trust. Furthermore they represent a violation of the mandate and principles by which the institution is governed, and reflect a fundamentally mendacious streak in the current administration.
In the university’s Strategic Plan “A Vision for the Future - Building on Strength” Objective 32 states “Implement environmental stewardship practices that serve to make U Vic a leader in sustainability”. Objective 31 states “to implement our campus plan…informed by community input and our commitment to sustainability.” The divergence between the ideas in the Strategic Plan and the actual culture of the current administration represents a serious deficiency of leadership and lack of respect for ethical principles.
A few themes continually resurface in their handling of the issue: lack of transparency on this matter of intense public interest, secretive and undemocratic decision making processes, deliberate sabotage of any rabbit-friendly initiatives from staff, students, local residents and concerned animal advocacy groups, refusal to consider non-lethal programs despite overwhelming community support and evidence of success, refusal to accept responsibility for their lack of action on this issue, refusal to communicate frankly with concerned citizens, animal groups, and the media, and continual public misinformation campaigns designed to predispose the public to accept the mass killings the university has planned.
While other colleges such as Long Beach College in California (see Wall Street Journal article -
The opening excerpt from the LGL Ltd. Environmental Research report speaks to the university’s desire to maintain the appearance of doing their due diligence on the rabbit issue, without any genuine interest in or intention of diverting from their planned course of killing the rabbits. The university continually refers to its “attempts” or other’s “failed” attempts at resolving the problem using non-lethal means…and holds this up as their justification for now promoting a kill. In fact the university has not done it’s due diligence and there are a number of obvious examples of this.
The university commissioned report from exterminator LGL Environmental Research Ltd. also suggests physical grounds remediation as a way to reduce rabbit habitat and therefore the rabbit population. The university has not carried out the grounds remediations recommended in the report, which would have reduced the amount of rabbit-preferred habitat on campus without costing a single life. Similar remediations are also suggested on the Ministry of Environment website.
One wonders why the university went first to an exterminator instead of their own biology department for answers to their questions. This situation provides an exciting teachable moment for students and faculty and should have been promoted as such. A sterilization program could take place on campus, with the help of the many community veterinarians who have offered their assistance (Dr. Nick Shaw from Shaw Pet Hospital, Dr. Helen Bell from Pacific Cat Clinic, Dr. Ilija Lukic, Sidney Animal Hospital, and Drs. Malcolm and Harry Bond from Salt Spring Vet Clinic), and students, staff, and other volunteers could help with the capture, recovery, adoptions, and release of the rabbits involved. Rabbit health and population dynamics could be studied, as well as other educational and public policy initiatives. Educating the public about responsible rabbit care and improving laws to protect rabbits are two points studiously ignored by the current campus administration, despite wide public interest and acceptance.
The university is constantly complaining about the “damage” the rabbits are doing to the campus grounds, and complaining about having to “clean up” the dead rabbits killed on campus roads each day. Campus staff kill injured rabbits by brute force, pummelling them to death with shovels and stones, instead of taking them to Wild Ark wildlife rehabilitation center or the Central Victoria Veterinary Hospital to receive treatment free of charge.
In a Sept. 12, 2008 press release the university said “Since late 2007, the university has been gathering information on rabbit damage and safety concerns…“ and “…we’ll be able to explore non-lethal control methods, such as vegetation modifications“. As the report’s recommended grounds remediation and exclusion recommendations were not implemented, many feel that the university has no reason to voice these complaints, or suggest that non-lethal methods have failed. For in reality, the entire efforts of the administration have been to sabotage any non-lethal methods. In simple terms the rabbits are the scapegoat for the administration’s failure to address the plight of the animals at an earlier and more manageable point. The university’s cruel and regressive plan to shoot these abandoned pet rabbits illustrates the complete lack of transparency, compassion and ethical leadership at the highest levels at the University of Victoria.
Following the recommendations of the exterminator at LGL, the university commissioned a Feral Rabbit Pilot Project by Common Ground, a wildlife damage reduction company. This project was simply the scapegoat “trapping” referred to in the LGL Report, the necessary precursor to the shooting campaign and the tool to manufacture the public’s consent. The study, approved and given the go-ahead by campus administration, involved sterilization of campus rabbits and their rehoming or release. The project was halted before it was completed, and declared a failure by campus administration, despite positive community response. The project details were never released to the public but many project volunteers feel that any attempt which resulted in the sterilization of rabbits is a success. Indeed, if the university put as much money into rabbit sterilization as it does into producing and publicizing misinformation on the topic, the campus rabbits would all have been sterilized by now, and a fulsome public education campaign could have been funded.
University administrators stated that the cost per rabbit was $348, another fallacy. The real cost ranged from pro-bono provision of veterinary services (free), to between $50 and $70 per animal. The inflated price tag the university keeps throwing out to the public is yet another attempt at undercutting the important ground-breaking work of the Feral Rabbit Pilot Project by implying it incurred much higher direct animal costs. In a time of fiscal restraint, this is clearly an attempt to pander to a taxpaying public by implying scandalous project expenses.
The university administration erroneously claimed the Feral Rabbit Pilot Project could not find homes for the 50 rabbits they sterilized. In fact, project volunteers confirmed that 35 homes were confirmed within the first three weeks of the project. There were four groups participating: Rabbit Advocacy of BC in North Vancouver, Earth Animal Rabbit Sanctuary (EARS) on Salt Spring, Vancouver Rabbit Rescue and Advocacy, and the Salt Spring SPCA. A planned press conference was pre-empted following word from the Ministry of Environment that the project was not in compliance with provincial Wildlife Act regulations.
The Ministry of Environment at that point informed the project participants that they would need to apply for permits for each rabbit caught, consent to premises and vehicle inspections, and permanently house the rabbits in Ministry specified pens at a single location for the remainder of their lives. This would have not allowed the rescue groups to find homes for the rabbits, or move them to other locations as they usually do with rescued domestic rabbits. Furthermore, the Ministry pens would have involved an expenditure of tens of thousands of dollars - which the groups simply could not provide at a moment’s notice. Taking in the university rabbits would have caused the groups to be less able to take in other homeless rabbits as the university rabbits would have to become permanent wards.
University administration spokespersons said the Ministry of Environment was to blame because they were now requiring permits allowing the rabbits to be placed in homes or sanctuaries. However the truth of the matter is the university knew prior to the project commencing that the necessary permits and exemptions (which would have allowed re-homing and sanctuary placements) were not in place. In other words the university let Common Ground go ahead with the Feral Rabbit Pilot Project and trap/sterilize/re-home the rabbits…with full knowledge the Ministry would clap a lid on it as soon as they became aware.
Campus administration continue to deliberately misinform the public about the Feral Rabbit Pilot Project, constantly referring to the failure of the project contractor to place all the sterilized rabbits in adoptive homes or sanctuaries, which is a blatant contradiction of the facts. No mention is made of the university’s obstructive role with the Ministry of Environment. The Ministry requires permits to move wild animals, which they consider the rabbits to be, and requires the animals to be relocated within a specific region. Most of the generous offers of sanctuary come from outside this restricted area.
The Common Ground contractor and community volunteers went ahead with the Feral Rabbit Pilot Project on the understanding that the university gave them, which was the university had worked out exemptions to the permits and other regulations in their closed door meetings with the Ministry of Environment officials. When the go ahead was given by the university to the project participants…their understanding was that it was permitted to do the trapping/sterilization/relocation of the rabbits.
Although initially the Ministry of Environment officials simply informed the project participants of the absence of any required permissions, they had begun negotiations over possible exemptions with the Feral Rabbit Pilot Project participants at the time the university halted the project. The university, sensing an end-run around their plans to undermine the project, abandoned the project without officially informing the contractor Common Ground.
The university alleges feral rabbits are “aggressive” while any one with any common sense knows a wild rabbit will flee from humans. Tame rabbits, conditioned by years of feeding by students, staff and visitors to the campus, will approach people offering food. This is hardly surprising and will continue as long as humans habituate the rabbits to this behaviour. Other attempts at fear-mongering by the university involve claims of tetanus infections from rabbit bites. On September 12, 2008 the University of Victoria press release stated that “feeding rabbits also increases the risk of bites, and tetanus could result”. This fear mongering was compounded by equally unsubstantiated claims of “disease spread by rabbit feces” and “catastrophic injuries to athletes”. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which monitors common zoonotic public health concerns does not even have a reporting category for these alleged risks, nor any reports of these hyperbolic claims. Area hospitals could not confirm the allegations of “catastrophic injuries to athletes” either. The precautionary principle would suggest the university fence off sports fields they are concerned about, something which is mentioned in at least one report. The university has failed to do this, and every other remediation suggested.
If the opening quote from LGL Environmental Consultants about how the university can manufacture consent for a shooting spree on campus wasn’t chilling enough, the section which actually describes it certainly is. The report writer, who is an exterminator, writes “Night-time shooting using a high-velocity .177 calibre air rifle with scope design for low-light conditions is an efficient way to cull rabbits”. The report goes on to describe how to dispose of the bodies off campus, and reduce public awareness of the kill.
There is no mention of Trap Neuter Release programs (TNR) anywhere in the LGL report, although it does make allusion to the possibility of other alternatives which would require a literature review, something LGL felt was outside of its responsibility. If the university was truly seeking a non-lethal rabbit population program, it begs the question: Why did the University of Victoria hire an exterminator to produce this report? Why did the university not use the expertise within its own ranks to provide non-lethal population control measures? And lastly, why did the university keep the report from LGL secret? Most telling is the fact that the LGL Environmental Consultants report, which was never formally or willing released to the public, was in fact leaked by a horrified staff member, one of many in deep disagreement with the tactics of the current administration.
Earlier this month, the BC Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals withdrew its support for the university’s plan to do a mass killing of the campus rabbits. In a statement to the public, and reproduced on their webpage, the BCSPCA threw its support behind non-lethal alternatives. The very public withdrawal of support from the province’s largest animal welfare group speaks volumes. BCSPCA insiders admit that they felt misled by the university when they discovered that non-lethal methods had not been tried, despite university claims to the contrary. In addition, the society received a lot of letters, calls, and emails from concerned citizens which mobilized them to distance themselves from the university’s planned slaughter. This move leaves the university completely isolated in its plan to kill the rabbits.
Internationally, boycotts are being planned against the university. Locally, provincially, and nationally, the community, students, faculty, staff, alumni, and donors are, in no uncertain terms, expressing their opposition to the planned killing of campus rabbits.
The University of Victoria needs to come to its senses and join with the community’s collective efforts to live in harmony with nature, and show compassion for those members of our society who cannot speak or advocate for themselves. Hopefully the upsurge in community opposition to the kill will encourage the university to show ethical leadership on this important issue. For the people, for the ecology, and most importantly for the animals the best choice is undeniably compassion.
On December 24, 1967, just months before his assassination, Martin Luther King said “non-cooperation with evil is essential…we must practise non-violence for all levels of conflict…we will meet your physical force with our soul force…and one day we will win our freedom, and yours.”
An online petition has been set up at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/13/stop-slaughter-of-u-of-victoria-rabbits/
A blog has also been set up: http://savetheuvicrabbits.blogspot.com
A face book page has been created to promote non-lethal alternatives called UVic Buns Management
Backgrounder on rabbit laws:
Municipal rabbit bylaws are gradually being adopted in many BC cities and towns. These laws generally speaking deal with issues like public education about rabbits, bans on selling unaltered animals, and bans on selling animals in pet stores.
Provincially, rabbit advocates had hoped that domestic rabbits would be afforded more protection by their removal from Schedule C when the provincial Wildlife Act was amended recently. This would have allowed them protection under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. However, The Environmental (Species and Public Protection) Statutes Amendment Act, 2008, contained no changes pertaining to the European Rabbit - Orcytolagus cuniculus - commonly know as the domestic rabbit. This leaves the domestic rabbit, like all other mammals released into the wild, in Schedule C of the Wildlife Act of BC. This class of animals has little or no protection.
The release of domestic animals into the wild is a violation of the Criminal Code of Canada and an offence under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act of BC. However, the PCA Act does not apply to wildlife, which is how the domestic rabbits are currently classified. (see links http://www.rabbitadvocacy.com/bcs_wildlife_act_amended.htm and http://www.rabbitadvocacy.com/rabbits_and_the_wildlife_act.htm for a good overview of rabbits and the Wildlife Act courtesy of the Rabbit Advocacy Group.
Roslyn Cassells is a BC based social justice activist and Canada's first elected Green. She is an ardent animal and human rights activist, and writes, teacd campaigns for positive social, economic and ecological change everywhere.