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Domestic rabbits making rounds in Banff

“We haven’t noticed a change through the complaints we receive or what we see that there’s an increase or any cause for increased concern from the norm."
20200908 Canmore Rabbit 0086
The Town of Banff prohibits the keeping of domestic rabbits in the national park townsite. RMO FILE PHOTO

BANFF – Banff is experiencing a recent spate of rabbit sightings.

The rabbit, or possibly rabbits, is thought to be an escaped pet and not a feral rabbit that has made the 25-kilometre journey from Canmore – where that municipality has been fighting to get rid of them for years.

Town of Banff officials say they receive occasional reports about rabbits in the community, where the keeping of domestic rabbits has been prohibited since 2020.

They say there is not an issue with domesticated rabbits being released in town and staff monitor the situation to make sure it doesn’t become a problem.

“We get maybe a handful of calls a year,” said Stan Andronyk, the Town of Banff's manager of municipal enforcement.

“Now that this one’s come to our attention, we’ll try to locate it and trap it and capture it.”

Rabbit sightings started to be reported towards the end of April, with one rabbit seen and photographed last Friday (May 13) in the garden bed between Nesters Food Market and the parking lot by Town Hall.

In 2020, Banff’s animal services bylaw was amended to prohibit the keeping of domestic rabbits.

Previously, the bylaw had limited the number of domestic rabbits per home to four. Existing pet rabbits were grandfathered and therefore allowed.

The council of the day didn’t want Banff to end up with a feral rabbit problem similar to that experienced in neighbouring Canmore, where a dozen or more domesticated rabbits were released in the 1980s.

Domestic rabbits are considered a wildlife attractant and can also cause extensive damage to public and private property, and leave behind a significant amount of feces.

Since 2012, the Town of Canmore has hired a contractor to live trap and humanely euthanize rabbits every year.

When the trapping program started, the rabbit population was estimated to be about 2,000, and although there is no estimate now, short gestation periods and large litters can mean a rabbit population can bump from two to 70 within one year.

In Banff, there have been roughly 20 feral rabbits captured over the past five years. Many were relocated through the Earth Animal Rescue Society (EARS), with rabbits going to various sanctuaries in Calgary, near Cochrane and in Victoria, B.C.

“We try to locate them and take custody of them and we don’t always find them obviously,” said Andronyk.

“We transport them to places outside the park that accepts rabbits.”

Andronyk said the municipality hasn’t noticed an increase in rabbits.

“We haven’t noticed a change through the complaints we receive or what we see that there’s an increase or any cause for increased concern from the norm,” he said.

Town officials say they work with Parks Canada to help monitor rabbits and other invasive species as part of their wildlife management responsibility.

They ask if anyone sees a domestic rabbit to please call Town of Banff municipal enforcement at 762-1218.

“We will address each call as they come in,” said Andronyk.

The Bow Valley human-wildlife coexistence task force recommended removal of feral rabbits in Canmore to keep predators such as cougars and wolves out of town.