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Feral rabbit problem growing at Richmond Auto Mall

A rabbit problem is multiplying at the Richmond Auto Mall, and a local animal welfare group is trying to find homes for the bunnies before the province steps in.

A rabbit problem is multiplying at the Richmond Auto Mall, and a local animal welfare group is trying to find homes for the bunnies before the province steps in.

An estimated 400 rabbits nibble daily on the grass-covered areas of several auto dealerships off Westminster Highway at Jacombs Road, at the eastern edge of the wooded Richmond Nature Park.

The bunnies started appearing three years ago, and have since become an attraction for customers and their children.

But Gail Terry, speaking for the Richmond Auto Mall, says the dealership association wants the animals gone.

"We want to do the right thing and get them to a place that is much safer for them to live than [it] is here, amongst this traffic and asphalt," Terry said.

But people can't simply show up and take a bunny home.

The provincial government says that as soon as a pet rabbit is let loose, it becomes wildlife and falls under provincial jurisdiction.

The province encourages that feral rabits be trappped and put them down, rather than re-homing them.

Sorelle Saidman, speaking for Rabbitats Canada, said the animal welfare group is trying to raise $60,000 with the intention of opening a rabbit sanctuary in the Lower Mainland.

Saidman said the problem in Richmond is similar to that at the University of Victoria a couple of years ago, where over a thousand bunnies had the run of the campus, and were set to be culled.

Rabbitats helped send hundreds of those rabbits to sanctuaries in the U.S., but Saidman said it needs an alternative.

"It's not Texas' problem, it's not Washington state's problem, it's our problem," she said. "And it's not fair that we are not dealing with our problem."

The Richmond rabbit colony, like the one that plagued the University of Victoria, began with abandoned pets.

Two years ago, Richmond's city council banned pet stores from selling rabbits, but that hasn't stopped people from dropping them off near the Auto Mall.

With files from the CBC's Emily Elias