05/08/2012 01:13 EDT | Updated 07/08/2012 05:12 EDT

Spring trapping of Canmore rabbits at an end:no casualties so far

CALGARY - Out-of-control feral rabbits, once at risk of being put to death in an Alberta mountain community, may end up living "hoppily" ever after.

Canmore, a picturesque town located 110 kilometres west of Calgary on the eastern edge of Banff National Park, made international headlines and faced the wrath of animal lovers last year for its plan to destroy about 2,000 rabbits.

The rabbits were originally pets but were released in the 1990s and started doing what bunnies do best. Canmore officials say the population grew to the point where there was one rabbit for every six people in the town of 12,000.

The town has said the rabbits are too plentiful and could attract cougars and coyotes looking for an easy snack.

Canmore originally hired a contractor to trap the long-eared animals and was planning to have them euthanized. However, a deal with an animal rescue group, the Earth Animal Rescue Society (EARS), was worked out and all of the rabbits so far have gone there.

An update by the town on its feral rabbit management plan indicates that the trapping of the critters ran from January until the end of March and 213 rabbits were successfully sterilized and are now living in a local rabbit sanctuary.

"There were no rabbits euthanized by the contractor," reads the report.

Susan Vickery, who has been working with EARS from her home in Coombs, B.C., said a wave of cash came in from the public during the month of March after it was made public that her group had run out of money and that it would be unable to save any other rabbits.

"It's nice to see that people do respond at crisis time, that they didn't just keep their heads in the sand," Vickery said in a telephone interview with The Canadian Press.

"Without that second wave of funding we would have been without the resources we needed. I'm not going to say in the toilet," she said with a chuckle. "That was a blessing. Those were really pennies from heaven."

The report said there were a few problems with the trapping program, including the fact that it began too late in the season. It also notes that there were still a number of residents continuing to feed the rabbits, difficulty getting onto private property and others opposed to euthanization.

The trapping is expected to resume again in October. Vickery said it may be possible with an "aggressive" program this fall to remove the remaining rabbits from the community and find them new homes.

Vickery said there is nothing wrong with suspending the trapping for the summer months.

"People are going to counter this right off by saying, 'you stopped trapping in April, the population is just going to rebound plus.' That's not true," said Vickery.

"We know from these feral populations that they experience like an 80 per cent mortality rate in the first three weeks of their life. It takes a while for a population to re-establish itself and rebuilt. That's not going to happen over the summer."