Soldotna officer battles mushrooming feral bunny population

Posted: Friday, March 04, 2005

SOLDOTNA - Soldotna's only animal cop says she's got a handle on the stray dog population. It's those cute bunnies that drive Marianne Clark batty.

A recurring problem with domestic rabbits gone wild has escalated over the past year. Clark is setting out traps - and even chasing them down with a tool more often seen on the nearby Kenai River, a fishing net - to lower the population before gardening season.

"The minute new, tender growth goes up, that's when we get the complaints," Clark said.

Clark does not know the source of the rabbits. She suspects people no longer wanted to care for pets and turned them loose.

With few predators in the neighborhoods of Soldotna, in part thanks to Clark's work with stray dogs, the rabbits have flourished. And they're getting a helping handout from humans.

"People feed them, which puts them in good healthy condition, or prime breeding condition. That makes bigger litters," Clark said.

Except in rural residential zones, owning rabbits is prohibited in Soldotna.

She doesn't have a bunny count, but there are far more in Soldotna than could be naturally supported.

"I've never dealt with the numbers of this magnitude before," she said. "I heard one report of a man who saw 56 up and down his street one morning. Fish and Game counted a couple hundred in one area."

Tom Jahns, University of Alaska Anchorage agriculture land resources district manager, said just one male and one female rabbit can produce more than 100 offspring in one season.

"They are extremely destructive to gardens. They chew the bark all the way around a plant or shrub," he said.

Clark wants to get the population down before Soldotna sees a problem she's read about in animal control newsletters: rabbits licking salt off and chewing through brake lines on vehicles.

Clark has set out traps and ordered more. She's also tried less conventional methods.

"I ran a couple of them down and caught them with a fishing net," Clark said. "That wasn't as successful. They wised up to that right away."

Two rabbits she trapped were pregnant and had litters. She suspects the young would not have survived the cold.

As for the trapped adults, they probably will be euthanized. Clark said her department is not comfortable putting a feral animal into a child's arms.

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