11/10/2011 02:51 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Alberta town's plan to eliminate rabbit overrun hitting legal snag

CALGARY - An Alberta town's controversial plan to eliminate up to 2,000 feral rabbits may have to hop over a legal hurdle first.

The scenic town of Canmore, located on the eastern edge of Banff National Park, has been overrun by the animals and their offspring who have been breeding at a frenetic pace and are damaging property.

The town, who also fears the mammals will attract predators such as coyotes and cougars to the community, has hired a contractor to trap the bunnies and have them gassed if a deal isn't worked out with an animal welfare group to sterilize and relocate them.

The contract to a firm of professional trappers called Animal Damage Control was scheduled to go into effect on Monday and run until March.

But a motion for an injunction by an Edmonton photographer will be heard in a Calgary courtroom Monday in a bid to stave off the move.

"Any killing is permanently irreversible to the animals and to interpersonal relations and the psychological sense of well-being of concerned residents as well as myself," Dan Onischuk says in his affidavit. He calls himself a longtime rabbit advocate and rabbit owner.

"Since rabbits have pre-existed in the area for about 20 years, a court order to temporarily stay rabbit capture and execution is fair and reasonable," he writes.

"Until such time as alternative no-kill proposals, public consultations and scientific studies, vet and doctor input, and the respective laws, responsibilities and costs are determined."

An official with the town confirmed the injunction is being sought and said someone will be in court.

"My understanding is either the courts will say 'stop, you cannot issue this contract' or the court will say 'there's no reason for you to stop. You can go ahead and issue the contract.' We really have no idea," said spokeswoman Sally Caudill.

But she pointed out the contract with Animal Damage Control hasn't been finalized yet so the trapping process wasn't going to begin Monday anyway.

"We are still working on finalizing the details of the contract with the contractor. So depending on what happens in court, the contractor may or may not start as soon as the contract is ready," she said.

"We're not at the point of them necessarily starting."

Susan Vickery, founder of Earth Animal Rescue Society has been working with the Save Canmore Bunnies group.

She also was heavily involved earlier this year when the University of Victoria in British Columbia dealt with hundreds of feral rabbits destroying fields and property. Most of the vagrants were trapped and relocated to bunny-friendly sanctuaries, but others were killed.

Vickery, who said enough money has been saved to deal with about 45 of the Canmore rabbits, is still hopeful a plan can be worked out with the town to deal with the population explosion in a more positive way.

She has mixed feelings about the injunction.

"In my heart, of course, I support anything that speaks for those animals but I also need to develop relationships and work hard with these people for the animals' best interests," she told The Canadian Press from her home in Coombs, B.C.

"It's not always an injunction. It's not always about lighting fires. It stalls things. It's going to hold stuff up."

Canmore Mayor Ron Casey has indicated one of the reasons the town has so many rabbits is that Alberta wildlife officers killed off coyotes in the area a few years ago after some runs-ins with children.

The rabbit numbers then exploded because they have no natural predators. He said the bunnies have spread throughout the community and without action, the population will continue to grow.