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Neutering Campaign to Reduce a Growing Population : County Starts Hopping to Stop Hare-Raising Antics at Sanctuary

November 29, 1987|BONNIE HEALD | Times Staff Writer

The county is attempting to stop the population explosion among rabbits at Marina del Rey by taking direct aim at what rabbits seem to do best--reproduce.

The county Department of Animal Care and Control will neuter 20 male rabbits each week to stem the population growth and save portions of the Admiralty Way roadbed that has fallen prey to burrowing by bunnies.

If that fails, animal control authorities said, they will begin eliminating the rabbits, even though many of them were once family pets.

The Oxford Flood Control basin, called the Marina Sanctuary by the county, is home to more than 2,000 birds and small animals, about 1,500 of which are rabbits.

"It's a regular bunny explosion," Los Angeles Animal Care and Control Assistant Director Bruce Richards said. "Already we have numbers we can't cope with, but where do you draw the line?"

Richards and an organization called Marina Sanctuary Inc. are looking for homes for the rabbits, but the options are limited by their concern for the animals' well-being.

No Rabbit for Dinner

"You certainly don't want to see it (a rabbit) on somebody's dinner table," Richards said.

According to Jim Cole, spokesman for Los Angeles County's Department of Beaches and Harbors, the department that manages the flood basin, the problem started about 10 years ago when chicks and ducklings--and bunnies--became popular Easter gifts.

However, as the animals grew larger and the novelty of pet ownership wore thin, owners began discarding the unwanted pets in the 10.9-acre basin, Cole said.

Up to a few years ago natural attrition kept the population somewhat under control, Cole said. But even then there were occasional problems.

According to Cole, several years ago county officials were called to round up some roosters that nearby residents said were keeping them awake all night.

The roosters, confused by the artificial street lights along Washington Street, thought it was daybreak, Cole said. "The street lights would come on, and off they (the roosters) would go," he said.

Then about five years ago, two women who lived in the area noticed an unusual number of animals they said were dying of hunger inside the fenced basin. Irene Ashby, 67, and Leigh Platte, 43, have since formed the nonprofit Marina Sanctuary Inc.

The purpose of the group, they said, is to feed and care for the sanctuary's varied inhabitants, two of which look suspiciously like turkeys.

But as the animal population has grown, so has the job of feeding it. Ashby now spends about 50 hours a week on the project. She distributes 100 gallons of fresh water and 350 pounds of feed daily to the hundreds of pet dishes strewn throughout the sanctuary.

7,000 Pounds of Food

According to Platte, this year's food consumption is double last year's consumption. It currently takes about 7,000 pounds of food per week, Platte said.

The group needs more than homes for the animals, Platte said. "We need food and money," Ashby said. "We'd really like six good men, especially on Wednesdays when the feed comes in." Last week's delivery included 92 50-pound bags of feed, she said.

But the most serious problem at the moment involves the burgeoning rabbit population. The rabbits have burrowed dangerously close to Admiralty Way, causing the roadway's ground support to erode, Cole said.

Everyone agreed that something must be done to stop the continued erosion. Two weeks ago, the animal control officers and a volunteer work force began moving 400 rabbits into a newly fenced area well away from the road.

Rabbit-Catching Expertise

According to animal control spokesman Richards, before undertaking the project, the department conferred with researchers at the University of Pennsylvania for their rabbit-catching expertise.

"We've rounded up buffalo and goats, but we've never taken on a project like this one," Richards said. By the end of the day about 200 rabbits had been corralled and transferred to their new home, Platte said.

The next step will be to separate and neuter the males. But it will be a close race to keep up with the new babies and unaltered males that people continue to throw over the sanctuary's fence, Richards said.

"This is a very difficult program to deal with. It's a good group of people," Richards said of the volunteers. "How do I tell them you have to get rid of 300 animals?" But unless the sanctuary's animal population can be controlled, there may be no alternative, the animal control official said.

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