Bunny Park creatures ‘starving, neglected’

Published Jul 15, 2015

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Johannesburg - A family outing to the Rynfield Bunny Park in Benoni could become an awkward experience as parents fumble to find ways to explain the dead and deformed rabbits to their children.

On Tuesday, visitors were left lost for words as SPCA staff netted rabbits whose faces were covered in crusty growths that obstructed their eyes, ears, noses and mouths.

“The bunnies are sick; they’re taking them to the doctor,” parents told their children before hustling them along.

Another animal welfare organisation, Kitty and Puppy Haven (KPH), sent a volunteer to the park after it was alerted to the condition of the animals.

“She discovered numerous sick and injured rabbits at the park. There was virtually no food available and there was very little water for the animals. All the available water was filthy,” said KPH director Samantha Berger.

“Much to her horror, she discovered a pit filled with dead animals, including rabbits, guinea pigs and a peacock.”

KPH approached the media to get assistance.

SPCA inspector Phil Maisela said the organisation received complaints about the park almost daily for years.

“We go (to the park) once a week if we can, but we don’t always have transport. Every time we go, we remove (animals),” he said

The park also houses goats, sheep and cattle.

On Tuesday, Maisela issued the park’s caretaker, Gideon Strydom, with a warning because there was no food in the cattle kraal.

“This is unacceptable, because cows can’t say ‘I’m hungry, give me food’. There’s no grazing, they need to have food 24 hours a day.”

There was no food in the cattle kraal when The Star visited on Thursday.

Maisela captured 13 sick guinea pigs, which had to be euthanised, on his visit to the park last week.

The crusty deformities on many of the rabbits’ faces were a contagious virus. But catching the sick rabbits was difficult because they ran fast or hid in deep burrows, he said.

“Another problem is over-population and uncontrolled breeding. My idea is to reduce the population, (which will) reduce the infection and spread of diseases. Most of them die because of starvation, because they’re only given food at the entrance – to create a good impression.”

This was evident during The Star’s visit. A few cabbages lay scattered in the dust near the entrance to the park and were quickly devoured by the rabbits.

Maisela said he planned to have a meeting with the park’s management to determine a way forward. Legal action was also a possibility.

But the Ekurhuleni municipality’s parks and cemeteries division said it was unaware of complaints until approached by the media.

It denied that the rabbits were neglected and underfed.

Metro spokesman Themba Gadebe said the deformities were as a result of inbreeding and thus not contagious.

“With the help of the local SPCA, these bunnies are removed from the park on a regular basis.”

He added that dead rabbits were as a result of natural causes or injuries inflicted by a blue heron.

“None of the animals in the Bunny Park are underfed. The bunnies are fed vegetables and good-quality rabbit pellets. They have access to food 24 hours a day. Cows are fed lucerne pellets twice a day and there are feeders with bales of teff in their enclosures.”

Gadebe said the metro had arranged for a vet to visit.

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The Star

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