No bunnies for Easter, pleads animal welfare (Tygerburger, 24 March 2021)



FAW spoke out about the subject of giving bunnies as Easter gifts in the Tygerburger on 24 March 2021

With Easter on our doorstep, many may think a cute and fluffy baby bunny is just the right gift. However, Fisantekraal Animal Welfare is urging people not to give rabbits or other pets as gifts.

Jenni Davies, spokesperson from the FAW says: “Every single year – a few weeks after Easter – animal welfares are inundated with calls from people who were given rabbits as gifts and don’t want them, or people who have found them in their gardens (having either been dumped or escaped). Those are the lucky ones; others simply get dumped in fields or bush, passed on to people who can’t afford to look after them, or end up languishing in tiny cages for the rest of their lives, neglected.”

The many feral rabbits roaming gardens in Durbanville neighbourhoods, as well as the cemetery and public facilities, such as church and school grounds, are proof of this.

Although not a rabbit-specific welfare, the FAW has also rescued many rabbits over the years, most of which were from people who got them for Easter. They then decided they were too much work and gave them to staff members who live in Fisantekraal, or just dumped them in neighbours’ gardens.

“People think they’re easy pets but having a rabbit is a huge commitment – more so than a cat or dog:

  • They live ten to fifteen years and are very costly pets.
  • They need specific food (feeding only lettuce and carrots as shown on TV makes them ill) and plenty of space to exercise; they can’t just be kept in a cage/hutch as this is cruel, and enrichment toys to keep them occupied.
  • Rabbits tend to be happier with a rabbit friend as they’re herd animals but, without careful introduction, they can fight.
  • They easily dig their way out of properties that aren’t secure, which could entail having to extend fencing under the ground or putting in paving.
  • Sterilising them (spay/neuter) is crucial because they really do ‘breed like rabbits’ – they can have as many as 15 kits (babies) in a litter, every single month, from the age of 3 months. Unsterilised rabbits spray to mark territory but rabbit sterilisation is an expensive surgery that many can’t afford.
  • Not only that, although some rabbits enjoy it, most do not like being picked up and cuddled – they may end up biting, kicking, or scratching.
  • Kept indoors without rabbit-proofing the home, rabbits can chew on electrical wiring, carpets, and furniture.

“Bottom line: this is absolutely not a ‘beginner’s pet’. So, while you think you’re giving someone a cute, inexpensive gift, unless it’s something they’re ready for, what you’re actually doing is actually saddling them with more than a decade of expensive care and hard work.

“Giving chicks is another unwise but popular choice but they quickly grow into chickens that need coops, special food, veterinary care, vaccinations, etc. Most of these ‘Easter gift chicks’ do not have a happy fate. A plush toy or box of chocolates is a far better option.

“Dumping your unwanted pet rabbit ‘in the wild’ is a terrible thing to do, even if people think they’re being kind by ‘setting them free in nature’. They’re used to being fed by people and don’t really know how to look after themselves, risk being attacked by dogs, cats, snakes, raptors, etc., they will be scared all the time. If they do survive, they breed, adding to the growing problem with feral rabbits in the Cape, including in Durbanville.

“We’ve had reports from all over – dams, parks, school fields, the Durbanville cemetery (where people have been seen hunting them with dogs) and even the rose garden. Judging by what they look like, these are almost certainly dumped or escaped pets and their offspring – it’s unlikely they’re from the rabbit meat farm which used to be outside Durbanville and there are no indigenous rabbits here.

“As cute as rabbits are, their environmental impact is severe: a colony can quickly destroy crops and indigenous plants, push out indigenous animals that can’t compete, and even damage the ground so much that fields collapse because of all their burrows. The rabbits we’re seeing are not tame and cannot easily be caught (never mind rehomed).

“Not everyone is focused on humane ways to get rid of these animals, even though killing rabbits, is not effective in the long run. So, given this situation, it makes sense to refrain from giving rabbits as pets unless you are absolutely 100% sure it will be kept in a happy, safe home for the rest of it’s life.”

The FAW urges people not to try and take matters into their own hands to get rid of feral rabbits. Simply killing them (usually with poison or shooting) does not work, as has been seen in other countries, is inhumane and, in the case of poison, has a ripple effect on other animals in the ecosystem.

If you have found a rabbit or have an unwanted rabbit, please contact an animal welfare such as the SPCA or one of the bunny rescues for assistance.

If you really want to get a forever pet rabbit, FAW strongly advises people not to buy from pet shops, backyard breeders, or classified ads – you are not ‘rescuing’ them from there; you’re just helping to create a market which may mean supporting unscrupulous breeders who just want to make a quick few Rands and don’t put the animals’ wellbeing first. Instead, contact one of the many rabbit rescue organisations which rehome vet-checked, sterilised, vaccinated bunnies. Cape Town-based rabbit rescue and rehoming organisations include Noordhoek Bunny Rescue, Boggle and Brux Rescue, and Bunny Huggers South Africa. And, please, if you do surrender your pet to any organisation, donate towards their care! It costs a fortunate for these welfares – which rely entirely on donations – to look after all the animals in their care, and the adoption fees don’t even cover a fraction of it. 

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