The B.C. government has proclaimed May 2017 as “Invasive Species Action Month”, to help raise awareness about invasive plants and animals in B.C. and the environmental and economic damage they can cause. In partnership with the Invasive Species Council of B.C. (ISC), regional districts, local governments, First Nations, and community organizations, the aim is to spread the word about how invasive plants and animals can displace native species and disrupt local ecosystems.
During week one the spotlight is on invasive animals, with the “Don’t Let it Loose!” campaign. British Columbia is a natural home to many wonderful species of animals, birds, and fish; but it is unfortunately also home to species that have no place in the province, and which were released into the wild by owners who no longer wanted them.
European rabbits are an invasive species which are now found throughout the province because owners grew tired of the pets and decided to abandon them in the wild. The BC SPCA receives dozens of abandoned rabbits after the Easter holiday has passed, and families that decided to adopt a rabbit grow tired of it. These are the fortunate rabbits; others are not so lucky.
“Many other rabbits are simply abandoned in the wild to fend for themselves,” says Lorie Chortyk, BC SPCA general manager of community relations. “These domesticated rabbits often fall prey to predators such as coyotes, are susceptible to disease, or end up starving to death.” Rabbits can live for up to 12 years, and prospective owners should thoroughly research the animal’s needs, and what to expect, before opting to get one.
Releasing any pet into the wild when it is no longer wanted is cruel, dangerous to the environment, and illegal. If enough rabbits are abandoned close to each other, they will breed like … well, rabbits. Flourishing rabbit colonies upset the balance of nature by multiplying into a serious overpopulation problem that can impact other species as the animals compete for food and shelter. Invasive species can out-compete native species for food and space, damage ecosystems, disrupt food sources, and introduce parasites and disease.
Some of the most serious invasive species were originally sold as pets or plants for water gardens and aquariums. Water gardeners and aquarium and terrarium owners have a large number of aquatic plants, invertebrates, reptiles, and fish to choose from at their local pet store. Unfortunately, some of these exotic species have the potential to become invasive, if the owner decides to release aquarium inhabitants into the wild or dump aquarium or water garden debris into rivers, streams, lakes, or storm sewers.
Some of these exotic water pets are able to thrive and reproduce in their new environment. Once established, they can take over their new habitat, reducing the native populations and changing the structure of the ecosystem. Even if the aquatic pet is native to the local environment, it can introduce disease or invasive parasites into the environment.
If you find yourself with a pet you no longer want, contact the place you purchased it from and see if they will take it back. You can also contact local science centres, zoos, or aquariums to see if they can use the animal for educational purposes. Dry and freeze all unwanted aquatic plant material and add it to non-composted trash.
If all else fails, have a qualified veterinarian euthanize the animal in a humane manner. That is a far kinder solution than letting the animal starve to death in the wild or destroy the homes of native plants and animals.