Las Vegas Sun

June 22, 2018

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Public safety:

Wave of feral-rabbit deaths prompts moves to save once-exploding population

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L.E. Baskow

Feral bunnies crowd the grounds of a Las Vegas facility on July 29. Abandoned pets or their offspring, these animals depend on volunteers to provide them food, water and sometimes medical care, but organizers of Bunnies Matter Las Vegas say resources are scarce.

Animal rights advocates say they are scrambling to round up feral rabbits roaming the grounds of a state mental health facility in Las Vegas after hundreds of animals recently were found dead.

Officials with Bunnies Matter in Vegas Too fear somebody is poisoning the rabbits at the Desert Willow Treatment Center in the 6100 block of Charleston Boulevard and are trapping the remaining animals to put up for adoption.

At one point, the rabbit population at the facility exploded to an estimated 1,200 after pet owners dumped unwanted animals, which naturally multiplied, officials said. But it appears there are now only a few hundred left.

It is unclear why the rabbits died, although officials with Bunnies Matter suspect they may have been intentionally poisoned with antifreeze.

Karla Delgado, a spokeswoman for the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the treatment center, said the agency is concerned about the sudden death of the rabbits but doesn’t know what is causing it.

Delgado said the deaths have been reported to Nevada Capitol Police, which is in charge of security at the facility.

In the meantime, animal rights advocates fear they have little time to rescue the remaining rabbits before they die too. “The time is now,” said Dave Schweiger, a volunteer with Bunnies Matter.

Rabbits have been living on the grounds of Desert Willow for at least five years. In 2015, the state awarded V Animal Sanctuary a $17,000 contract to capture them. Handlers caught more than 200 rabbits, but the population rebounded within six months.

There are also concerns that the rabbits could spread diseases, a notion dismissed by advocates as a scare tactic.

The Southern Nevada Health District warned that the rabbit population at the location created a public health risk because they might carry diseases such as rabies.

But a change.org petition started by Linda Sue to benefit Bunnies Matter says the public health notice references one disease not active in Nevada and two others that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are not found in domestic rabbits in Southern Nevada.