A-Hunting They Will Go

The rabbit and vulture problem at MIA hits its Malthusian limit

Another theory is that they snuck under the radar. The jackrabbits might have crept into some cargo that was loaded onto an airplane, or were brought here illegally and then escaped. (MIA officials report that Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport had a similar problem with jackrabbits a while back, making it a possible starting point.) Like so many others who accidentally land in South Florida, these stowaways apparently looked around and decided to make the best of it. And why not? It was hot, sunny, and there was plenty of food. Best of all, they had no natural predators. As they do, the creatures multiplied (jackrabbits can reproduce four times a year), and soon filled the over five square miles of airport grounds.

Drum, who has worked at Miami International for 26 years, says the rabbits have been there since he started but didn't used to bother anyone. He said the problem was "exacerbated" by the "Fourth Runway Project," which eliminated a mile and a half of their greenery. Since the FAA's order during a routine inspection last year, the airport has spent numerous man-hours and meetings trying to deal with them -- at one point they even contemplated an "adopt a rabbit program." Metrozoo wouldn't take them because it has no room and they are considered nuisance animals.

Relocation in Florida was blocked because state law prohibits moving nonnative animals around the state. Sending them back where they came from wasn't an option either, because jackrabbits are classified as "exotic," meaning once they're here, you can't touch them. So the airport, it appears, is left with one solution. "We're very sensitized to life itself," Drum laments. "[But] I really have to put the safety of the public ahead of any other consideration." In this, Drum has the support of the zoo. "This is not a bunny in a pet shop," says Ron Magill, chief publicist at Metrozoo. "The only solution is to eradicate them."

The next step will see MIA contacting Brashears's office at the USDA. Brashears says that if this case follows the pattern of others he's dealt with, USDA will first look at changing the habitat to make it inhospitable to rabbits -- cutting down shrubs and burning grass, so they'll leave. If that doesn't work, the rabbits will be trapped, using some scrumdili-icious veggies, and then unceremoniously euthanized. Rabbits being rabbits, though, Brashears worries that the jacks may seek to replace their friends as quickly as they lose them, in the old-fashioned way. That would leave just one option.

Brashears says he's had to gun down trespassing animals in the past, mostly coyote and deer. Still, the soft-spoken USDA district supervisor didn't seem too positive about the prospect of sharp-shooting the fuzzy, long-eared intruders over the next few months.

But there are others who might not be so squeamish. "If you went out with a spotlight," says Todd Harwick of Pesky Critters, a local animal control company, "you could shoot most of them in one night and be done with it."

Harwick isn't officially advocating this, but he says if it came to it, shotguns with thin seven- or eight-inch shells would do the job best, because they don't carry very far.

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