A suspected outbreak of syphilis has infected an entire colony of feral domestic rabbits on Edmonton's north side, and now a local rescue organization is stepping in to help.
Blane Klack with All Sizes Rabbit Rescue (ASRR) says the colony of rabbits was established about 30 years ago after a farmer let his rabbits loose when his property was foreclosed on. The rabbits migrated across St. Albert Trail to City Ford when construction began on the old farm property.
"As the years went on, populations boomed, the colony had to spread out to the other properties in search of better resources," said Klack.
"They are domestic rabbits, they cannot breed with our wild hares, and they don't have the evolutionary advantages to survive harsh winters."
Klack says that about five years ago, efforts were made to rescue the bunnies from City Ford's property and the property beside it, but not the cemetery, and since then the population has grown again.
The population grows so quickly due to the fact that female rabbits have a gestational period of only 30 days, says Klack. Each litter can have eight to ten babies, which adds up quickly when the colony already has 40 to 50 female rabbits.
"Unfortunately due to breeders dumping sick rabbits, there's now a syphilis infection that's basically at this point infected all the colony," said Klack.
The average life expectancy of a domestic rabbit is eight to 12 years, but in the colony it's one to two years, mainly due to the suspected outbreak.
Syphilis on bunnies start as white bumps that turn into lesions that cover their body, make their fur fall out, and can kill them if left untreated.
"Holy Cross Cemetery recognizes that there has been an increase in the feral rabbit population," reads a statement from Holy Cross Cemetery. "We’re working with All Sizes Rabbit Rescue to take care of rabbits who are sick and to move them elsewhere."
Klack says they don't know exactly how many rabbits are in the colony, but guesses there could be more than 300 at this point in time.
In a statement a spokesperson for the City of Edmonton says, "The City does not track feral domestic rabbits or intervene when they are on private property."
Multiple animal rescue agencies have also been helping out ASRR treating and adopting out the rabbits, and so far the groups have rescued 81 bunnies.
"We're taking them in, getting them treated and they get adopted out to spoiled houses," said Klack.
A "spoiled" house is when the bunnies aren't kept in cages, and are able to roam around freely, said Klack.
Though there is some disappointment that the Edmonton bunnies are being adopted out, and may someday no longer roam around the cemetery, Klack says it's the best option.
"These bunnies are very sick, and without getting them help, they're going to have a slow painful death, at the end of the day they'll eventually be no more bunnies.
"I would personally rather that be because they got rescued and treated, rather than they died."
Klack says they're very passionate about rescuing these rabbits, and rescuing bunnies has helped them get through some tough times.
"For me, nature taking it's course is them being rescued, treated and put into homes because that's what they were bred and meant for."
With files from CTV News Edmonton's Dan Grummett