Volume 57, Issue 2
Thursday, June 17, 2004
Bunnies for dinner
One studentıs adorable fur-ball is anotherıs source of protein
by John Thompson; dan harder photos
Rabbits are everywhere at the University of Victoria, crawling through bushes, scampering across lawns and even finding their way on to the dinner plates of a few students.
Hundreds, if not thousands of the European (or table) rabbit have inhabited the lush garden campus since the early 1980s. Students, who probably first introduced the animals by releasing unwanted pets, are commonly seen today fawning over the critters and feeding them carrots.
When Stu Crawford arrived on campus two years ago, his reaction was different. The 25-year-old ethnobiology graduate student was raised on a ranch in Lethbridge, Alberta, where his parents gave him a few rabbits to raise when he was about nine.
Females can bear up to four litters a year and have eight teats to feed them with. The offspring in turn can reproduce within four months. So it wasnıt long before Crawford had hundreds of rabbits. At about $2.50 a pound, breeding them was a pretty good way to make money.
When he first saw the abundance of rabbits on campus, he says his thoughts turned to capturing some.
³It makes perfect sense. They waste all that money watering the lawn,² he said. ³Iıve slaughtered thousands. They look like food to me.²
His roommates agreed. All are former vegetarians who shun eating meat from factory farms where animals spend their lives in cramped cages and pens. In comparison, the rabbits frolicking at UVic have had a pretty good life, said Graeme Verhulst, a 21-year-old political science student.
³I think eating local is a lot more important than eating vegetarian,² he said. ³Iım happy to eat ethically raised meat.²
He added that rabbits are an invasive species not native to the area.
³You have broom pulls and ivy pulls, so why not a rabbit pull?² he said, referring to Scotch broom and ivy, two invasive plants that choke out indigenous species unless locals uproot them every year.
They first attempted to capture rabbits under the cover of darkness during the second week of April. They tried to chase and capture the usually docile animals but were unable to outrun them.
³They were way faster than we were,² said Stefan Schmitt, 28-year-old physics graduate who also lived with the other two. Eventually they called the night a failure and switched tactics.
Days later Crawford and Verhulst returned, this time in broad daylight with a truck that carried a cage in the back, used for ducks they kept on their property. Walking around campus with backpacks, they lured the animals with an apple core. When rabbits hopped near, they dropped them in the backpack. They left with three.
Verhulst says a few people saw them catch the critters, but everyone seemed curious, rather than angry or upset.
The rabbits spent the next few days inside a large wire enclosure, about two metres tall and four and a half metres wide, built for the ducks from driftwood and abandoned construction materials. Then the time came for Crawford to show his roommates how to properly snap the rabbitsı necks, bleed and skin them. He says in a world of mass consumerism, capturing and killing an animal takes the mystery out of where your food comes from.
³Thereıs nothing more connecting than something giving up its life for you,² he said. ³It gives you more respect than you had before.²
He says heıs worried that students whoıve drunk a few pitchers at the campus pub may want to repeat the act, and he cautions that that capturing and killing rabbits needs to be done properly.
³It can be quite painful for the animal,² he said. ³If you just bonk them on the head, itıs going to be a mess.²
³Itıs traumatic all around when itıs not done right,² he said, adding that if someone he doesnıt know wants to learn, heıd be happy to teach them.
Schmitt says he became nervous as he watched others kill the rabbits, but ³as soon as I had my hands on the rabbit, the moment seized me and I was fine.²
³If Iım going to eat meat, I should be able to kill an animal,² he added.
The rabbits were then stuffed with breadcrumbs, slathered with rosemary and oil and roasted before being served at a potluck attended by about 20 people, held as a going-away bash before the student tenants moved away for the summer.
Verhulst says the meat tasted a bit dry, but afterwards they made a stew that was ³quite tasty.²
³The closest thing that it tastes like is chicken. I donıt know what else to describe it to,² he said.
Crawford disagreed. ³Iıve lived on rabbit. To me, chicken tastes like greasy rabbit,² he said.
The three were concerned that pesticides sprayed on campus might affect the food, so they didnıt eat the animalsı livers.
³I was worried if theyıd be carcinogenic,² Schmitt said. ³But I figured, whateverı. Once in a while probably isnıt that harmful. Itıs probably better than farmed salmon.²
Crawford added he noticed swollen adrenal glands in all three and was curious what could have caused it.
Tony James, the university grounds manager, says there isnıt any doubt that some of the rabbits are diseased. The university doesnıt condone anyone catching and killing the animals, but he adds that under the Wildlife Act, rabbits are considered undesirable, along with pigeons and starlings. This means if theyıre caught, you arenıt allowed to release them.
³If you catch them . . . youıre supposed to humanely euthanize them,² he said.
James says heıs heard of students catching the rabbits to eat before, but added that others catch them and take them home as pets.
Heıs also quick to refute rumours that the university culls its rabbit population.
³Every time someone finds a dead rabbit, they say Iıve poisoned them,² he said, adding that the rabbit population continues to grow, but is kept in check by hawks, owls and dogs.
Ken Marrison, assistant director of campus security, said the university has no specific policy dealing with students capturing rabbits, but ³weıd not allow people to come up here and do that.²
Volume 57, Issue 3
Thursday, July 15, 2004
Letters to the Editor
Stop the rabbit ³slaughter²
In regard to the article about eating rabbits on campus, Iıd like to say that Iım very worried. As a humane educator for many years, it is disturbing to see such pathetic disregard for living creatures. Just because some people see rabbits as ³pests,² or non-native species, does not give them carte blanche to do with them as they please.
Having had a ³house rabbit,² it pains me to know that people have such little respect for truly delightful creatures. Rabbits can be litter-trained, spayed and neutered, and treated like a member of the family living in the house, just as dogs and cats are. They can get along quite well with other rabbits (if spayed and neutered), and with other species. They are affectionate, humorous, curious, boisterous, and fascinating creatures.
Please stop the slaughter. To deal with the rabbit overpopulation, it might be wise to call upon rabbit rescue organizations to help with the capture, spay and neuter, and possibly rehoming of the rabbits. They will be happy to educate the students and the public about the wholly negative aspects of releasing rabbits into the wild, and about the nature of rabbits in general.
Youıre in the business of teaching, so why not teach compassion, for heavenıs sake?
UVic students should be ashamed
Your article on the capture and eating of rabbits living on campus is callous and unfeeling. The operative word is ³living², not slaughtering! Your student population has obviously little or no conscience. First, apparently releasing animals previously kept as pets, with no thought of their ability to survive, and then casually accepting the premise that they can then become food. Do they do the same thing with cats and dogs at the end of semester? You should all be ashamed of yourselves!
Walnut Creek, California
More on bunny-eating
Obviously you want a reaction to that ridiculous article on bunnies for dinner. Really funny. All I can say is that I am glad I went to UBC. One would think higher education would produce more intelligent people. As if former vegetarians would consider eating rabbits. Pretty dumb in more ways than one. Promoting the slaughter of animals that are obviously more intelligent than you is quite reprehensible.