Now Florida Has a Bunny Problem

Domestic lionhead rabbits have taken over community of Jenada Isles
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 17, 2023 7:58 AM CDT
Florida's Latest Invasive Species Is Very Fuzzy
A trio of rabbits gather on a driveway, Tuesday, July 11, 2023, in Wilton Manors, Fla. The Florida neighborhood is having to deal with a growing group of domestic rabbits on its streets after a breeder illegally let hers loose.   (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

When Alicia Griggs steps outside her suburban Fort Lauderdale home, Florida's latest invasive species comes a-hoppin' down the street: lionhead rabbits. The bunnies, which sport an impressive flowing mane around their heads, want the food Griggs carries. But she also represents their best chance of survival and moving where this domesticated breed belongs: inside homes, away from cars, cats, hawks, Florida heat, and possibly government-hired exterminators. Griggs is spearheading efforts to raise the $20,000 to $40,000 it would cost for a rescue group to capture, neuter, vaccinate, shelter, and then give away the estimated 60 to 100 lionheads now populating Jenada Isles, which the AP reports is an 81-home community in Wilton Manors.

They are descendants of a group a backyard breeder illegally let loose when she moved away two years ago. "They really need to be rescued. So we've tried to get the city to do it, but they're just dragging their feet," Griggs says. "They think that if they do that, then they'll have to get rid of iguanas and everything else that people don't want around." Monica Mitchell, whose East Coast Rabbit Rescue would likely lead the effort, said capturing, treating, and finding homes for them "is not an easy process." Few veterinarians treat rabbits and many prospective owners shy away when they find out how much work the animals require, particularly their need for a special diet.

Wilton Manors is giving Griggs and other supporters time to raise money and relocate the rabbits rather than exterminate them, even though the city commission voted in April to do just that after receiving an $8,000 estimate from a trapping company. The vote came after some residents complained the lionheads dig holes, chew outdoor wiring, and leave droppings on sidewalks and driveways. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which often culls invasive animals, has told the city it will not intercede. The rabbits pose no immediate threat to wildlife, but Florida's environment is not friendly to lionheads.

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Instead of the 7 to 9 years they live when properly housed, their lives outdoors are nasty, brutal, and shortened. The lionheads' heavy coat makes them overheat during Florida summers and their lack of fear makes them susceptible to predators. Munching on lawns is not a healthy diet. Their illnesses go untreated. "Domesticated (rabbits) released into the environment are not equipped to thrive on their own," says Eric Stewart, executive director of the American Rabbit Breeders Association. The Wilton Manors colony grows only because lionheads breed like, well, bunnies, with females birthing litters of two to six offspring every month, starting when they are about 3 months old. Says one resident, "I like them, I just wish they would go somewhere else. Rescue would be great."

(More invasive species stories.)

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