Rabbit roundup set for fall

Feral rabbits continue to run amok in Woodland and Green Lake parks after a failed attempt to relocate them to a new home.

But now, the city of Seattle has a new partner to handle the relocation portion of the roundup and is scheduled to restart capturing the rabbits this fall.

Citing poor timing, poor communication and a lack of money, Seattle's Parks Department halted the program about two weeks after it began in late February with the capture of just 48 of the long-eared critters.

"We could have done a lot of things better, but we are willing to keep going and try again," said Barb DeCaro, resource-conservation coordinator for the Parks Department.

Although several hundred rabbits run wild in the parks, most were likely pets that owners abandoned.

The rabbits have damaged trees and dug holes and tunnels that can be hazardous to park goers. The animals also carry parasites.

The first relocation attempt, which was to have begun Jan. 15, proved to be too expensive to complete. It would have cost an estimated $20,000 to spay, neuter and delouse as many as 200 rabbits, DeCaro said.

The Rabbit Meadow Sanctuary, which was to house the rabbits as a partner in the project, had raised $7,000, and the Parks Department had pledged $10,000.

The city started the process, and by early March, 48 rabbits had been captured and temporarily housed at Magnuson Park. They were to stay there until sterilized, then were to be moved permanently to the Redmond sanctuary.

But the temporary home was being used by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency for drug-bust drills, and housing the rabbits there created too much stress on the animals.

The $7,000 in donations was used to sterilize and care for the 48 rabbits and house them at the sanctuary. The city and the sanctuary ended their partnership shortly after that, DeCaro said.

Another problem was warm spring weather. It's best to capture rabbits in colder months when they mate less. But an early spring heat wave meant many rabbits were pregnant when captured.

The program required sterilizing the captured rabbits, which would have meant terminating the pregnancies. Although a handful of rabbits were born, the Parks Department thought it best to postpone the roundup until this fall, when the weather is cooler, said Dewey Potter, Parks Department public-information officer.

Now the department has partnered with the Friends of Park Rabbits group to find a relocation site and funding for the project. The group has not started raising money but has been at the parks on weekends to educate the public about the rabbits. The group encourages people not to feed the rabbits and not to drop off unwanted rabbits at the site.

There are feral rabbits in other, smaller parks in the city, and the city may start a roundup in those parks, because it would be easier to clear out all the rabbits quickly and cheaply, before tackling Green Lake and Woodland parks, DeCaro said.

Kayla Webley: 206-464-2391 or kwebley@seattletimes.com