After the eggs are dyed and the baskets are unloaded, some families who bought bunnies decide they don't want to keep their holiday pet after all. That's how the rabbit overpopulation problem began at Long Beach City College in California, where more than 300 abandoned pet rabbits are hopping all over campus, destroying hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of green landscaping and procreating like, well, rabbits.
The overabundance of bunnies has prompted a crackdown from the school, with officials posting new signs warning that pet rabbit drop-offs will be punishable by a $500 fine. Their Rabbit Population Management Task Force is on high alert as Easter approaches. They want pet owners to know they will not be welcome to dump their rabbits on the school's grassy knolls.
"It's not an accident that we're talking about this during the Easter season," Mark Taylor, director of community and governmental relations at the college, told AOL News. "We're trying to raise awareness before Easter that buying a bunny as a pet is a long-term commitment, just like a dog or cat. You have to be prepared to take care of them for the rest of their natural life."
Abandoning them on the college grounds has caused a host of problems, from the rascally rabbits' constant hole-digging and plant-destroying, to the tripping and falling hazard they present to students.
"The abundance of rabbits and their rapid reproduction rate has wreaked havoc on the grounds," facilities director Mark Thissell said.
The school's Bunny Census counted approximately 300 rabbits in recent months, but the staff said the number of Peter Cottontails is ever-growing, as the bunnies produce litters of up to 10 every 28 days.
Veterinarians from Western University of Health Sciences spayed or neutered more than 80 of the rabbits last week in an attempt to control the population. But the rabbits' well-being is also an issue.
"They are household pets, and they're not thriving outside on our campus," Taylor said.
Caroline Charland is president and founder of the Bunny Bunch, a no-kill, nonprofit rabbit rescue organization in Chino, Calif. She said the homeless bunnies at the college are being killed by predators like owls and hawks, suffering from outbreaks of syphilis and even sustaining injuries in bunny brawls.
"People see a field with bunnies and grass and they think 'Oh, I'll put my rabbit there.' Well, rabbits are very territorial, and they are beating one another up," Charland told AOL News. "Domestic rabbits don't know how to fend for themselves."
The bunnies are often abandoned because they require more work than dogs or cats and are not the ideal pet for children that they may appear to be, according to Charland, who is caring for the sick and injured rabbits. They shouldn't be caged or left outside because of their heat sensitivity, she said, and owners often find rabbits aggressive because pet stores don't tell families that they should be spayed or neutered.
Charland said she is trying to find loving homes for the abandoned bunnies.
"We're waiting until after Easter," she said. "Everybody wants a rabbit during Easter, and then the joy starts to wear off."