Florida Suburb Hops to the Rescue as Rabbits Overrun Community

A quaint community in South Florida has found itself dealing with an unexpected and utterly adorable problem – a burgeoning population of domesticated bunnies has overrun parts of Wilton Manors, a charming suburb of Fort Lauderdale. This bunny invasion has left the residents of Jenada Isle neighborhood both enchanted and divided, as they grapple with the consequences of an unusual event two years in the making.

Local lore suggests that this bunny boom began when a resident released lionhead rabbits from their backyard. These charming, fluffy creatures, known for their distinctive thick manes, quickly adapted to their new surroundings, and their numbers have now ballooned to exceed the 81 homes in the Jenada Isle neighborhood.

The bunny invasion has polarized the neighborhood’s residents. Some have expressed anger and frustration, even threatening to shoot the animals or use them as food for their pet snakes. Others, however, have a softer approach and advocate for letting the bunnies roam free. There’s also a group of concerned individuals who are working diligently to ensure the safety and well-being of these furry newcomers.

East Coast Rabbit Rescue (ECRR), a nonprofit organization, has taken up the mantle to rescue and rehome these bunnies. Recently, they managed to rescue 19 rabbits, including three pregnant ones, in a heartfelt effort. This volunteer-run outfit joined forces with local law enforcement to complete their mission.

The main challenge in trapping the rabbits, according to ECRR President Monica Mitchell, has been the resistance from some residents. She expressed her frustration, saying, “Our hope was to rescue up to 45 — that was our goal yesterday. But, unfortunately, we encountered lots of issues there…because the residents were so hostile. Some residents didn’t want us to take the bunnies.”

Despite an officer from the Wilton Manors Police Department being present to provide protection, Mitchell believes that the city needs to do more to mediate the situation. “The city needs to approach the residents in a different way,” she urged, “and say, hey, you guys need to allow the rescue to come and get the rest of the bunnies. They haven’t done that.”

The lionhead rabbits, although endearing, are not well-suited for suburban Florida. These animals, known to be prone to heat stroke, have been seen digging holes in the ground to escape the oppressive heat. They’ve been grazing on lawns that could potentially be treated with toxic pesticides, and they are vulnerable to the area’s predators and vehicles.

To ensure the welfare of these rabbits, ECRR estimates they will need at least $40,000 to capture, neuter, spay, vaccinate, and microchip over 100 rabbits that have been counted so far. While they have raised over half of this goal, the Wilton Manors Police Department has not committed funds to the effort.

The costs are mounting quickly, with each rabbit requiring $200 to $300 in care expenses, excluding additional medical attention that several bunnies desperately need. The rabbits need specialized care from exotic veterinarians, who are both rarer and costlier than those who treat common pets. In some cases, surgery may be required, and the nearest capable vet can be several hours away.

During an April 25 city council meeting, Wilton Manors councilmembers expressed concerns about establishing policies to address this issue, fearing it might set a precedent for addressing other invasive animals, such as iguanas and ducks.

According to Mitchell, the rabbits are believed to be descendants of pets owned by a former resident who unlawfully released them when she moved out of state two years ago. Their unchecked reproduction has led to this bunny population explosion.

In light of this situation, ECRR is calling on the community to step up and help through donations, supplies, and fostering opportunities. They are urging individuals in the West Palm Beach area to consider fostering these bunnies and have reassured potential fosters that they will provide everything needed, emphasizing, “You just need to love them.”

As the Wilton Manors community grapples with its adorable bunny dilemma, the volunteers at East Coast Rabbit Rescue continue their tireless efforts to ensure these charming creatures find safe and loving homes.

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