Florida Residents Rally to Rescue Invasive Lionhead Rabbits in Wilton Manors
In the neighborhood of Jenada Isles, located in Wilton Manors, Florida, a peculiar sight has become a daily occurrence. Lionhead rabbits, an invasive species with majestic flowing manes, roam the streets in search of food and a chance at survival. Alicia Griggs, a local resident, has taken it upon herself to raise funds amounting to $20,000 to $40,000. The goal is to enlist a rescue group to capture, neuter, vaccinate, shelter, and find homes for the estimated 60 to 100 lionheads that now inhabit the community.
These rabbits are descendants of a group that was illegally released by a backyard breeder who moved away two years ago. Griggs has been leading efforts to persuade the city to take action, but progress has been slow. She believes the city is hesitant because addressing the rabbit issue might open the door to tackling other unwanted creatures, such as iguanas.
Monica Mitchell, from the East Coast Rabbit Rescue, is likely to lead the rescue effort. However, capturing, treating, and finding suitable homes for the rabbits is no simple task. Few veterinarians specialize in treating rabbits, and potential owners are often deterred once they discover the level of care these animals require. Lionhead rabbits are considered exotic pets and have specific dietary needs that cannot be met with regular table scraps.
Despite the challenges, the city of Wilton Manors has decided to give Griggs and other supporters time to raise funds and relocate the rabbits, rather than resorting to extermination. Earlier in April, the city commission had voted in favor of extermination after receiving an $8,000 estimate from a trapping company. Concerns were raised by residents about the rabbits digging holes, damaging outdoor wiring, and leaving droppings on sidewalks and driveways. City officials also feared the rabbits might spread to neighboring communities and pose a traffic hazard if they ventured onto major streets.
Wilton Manors aims to prioritize the safety and well-being of these rabbits, seeking to ensure they are placed into the hands of individuals who can provide the necessary care and love for them. Police Chief Gary Blocker expressed the city’s commitment to handling the situation responsibly.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, responsible for culling invasive species, has informed the city that they will not intervene as the rabbits pose no immediate threat to wildlife. Unlike other invasive species in Florida, such as Burmese pythons and lionfish, the environment is not conducive to the lionhead rabbits. The Florida heat, lack of fear towards predators, and unsuitable diet take a toll on their health and lifespan.
The survival and growth of the lionhead rabbit population in Wilton Manors is primarily due to their high reproductive rate. Lionhead females can birth litters of two to six offspring each month starting at around three months old.
While some residents find joy in the presence of these rabbits and enjoy feeding them treats, others, like Jon King, have been affected negatively. The rabbits dig in his yard and damaged his outdoor lights, resulting in $200 worth of repairs. He has tried rabbit repellent without success, and even his little dog is friendly with the rabbits, providing no deterrent.
Though opinions vary among residents, the community hopes to find a resolution that ensures the rabbits’ well-being and addresses the concerns of those who have been affected. The path forward involves raising sufficient funds to relocate the lionhead rabbits, giving them a chance to thrive in environments where their needs can be met.