A mountain cottontail or Nuttall’s cottontail (Sylvilagus nuttallii)
The Easter bunny is a familiar symbol of springtime, and you might notice rabbits starting to appear in your backyard, but these animals haven’t always lived on Vancouver Island. They may look cute and fluffy but they’re an invasive species that can cause a lot of damage — so how did feral rabbits end up in the Comox Valley?
British Columbia is home to a few native species of wild rabbits including White-tailed Jackrabbits and Nuttall’s cottontails. However, the rabbits spotted today on Vancouver Island are neither of these species but instead are descended from European rabbits or Eastern cottontails.
Rabbit farming was a common pastime in the early 1900s, with many local farmers owning them. Albert Ibbotson advertised his intent to build a barn for the raising and breeding of rabbits on Minto Road in 1916, while F. Janes proudly won a prize for a pair of fancy rabbits at the Courtenay Fall Fair in 1917. Rabbit farmers would have made every effort to keep their livestock contained.
The earliest introduction of invasive rabbits to B.C. dates to 1927 when Eastern cottontails were brought to western Washington State; these dispersed quickly northwards with no regard for borders. On Vancouver Island, the first established colonies of feral bunnies were noted in 1964 and were traced back to a fellow in Sooke who had released some rabbits into the wild.
And rabbits have been moving up-island ever since with their numbers supplemented by pet owners who have lost or let their pets go. Because Vancouver Island lacks natural predators like coyotes or foxes, the lucky rabbits have found little resistance when they move into an area. Without predators, they’ve multiplied like… well… rabbits.
Now, feral bunnies are a common sight in the Comox Valley and they continue to spread northward. But their luck can’t last forever. As the Courtenay Review wrote in 1917, “Don’t put too much faith in the left hind foot of a rabbit. Every rabbit has one, and you know what happens to the rabbits.”