Why is the Year of the Rabbit bad for bunnies in Singapore?

Abandonment, surrendering of rabbits is a growing concern for animal welfare groups during this Chinese New Year

Rabbit decorations for Chinese New Year, white and grey rabbit running on grass (Photos: Getty Images)
Some animal welfare groups are concerned about an increase in rabbit abandonment and surrendering cases during this festive season. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

SINGAPORE – As the Year of the Rabbit approaches, abandoned rabbits are becoming a growing concern for animal welfare groups in Singapore.

Rabbit owners have taken spring cleaning to another level and pet rescue group House Rabbit Society Singapore said they are seeing a rise in more pet owners wanting to give up their rabbits during this Chinese New Year season.

"Sometimes we see more surrender requests because it is nearing the Chinese New Year. So they may be taking the opportunity to really 'spring clean'," said Zheng Meifang, a volunteer at the group.

It is not just pet owners giving up their rabbits to welfare groups, but also the issue of pet owners abandoning their pets in areas such as parks.

The House Rabbit Society Singapore said it took in 101 rabbits who were either abandoned or going to be re-homed last year.

It has also seen a hike in alleged rabbit abandonment, from 10 cases in 2021 to 17 last year.

A lone rabbit spotted at Tampines Eco Green near the MRT track on 17 January.
A lone rabbit spotted at Tampines Eco Green near the MRT track on 17 January. (PHOTO: (Screengrab/Roads.Sg)

A recent case of possible abandonment

A viral video posted on social media on Tuesday (17 January) showed a lone white rabbit at Tampines Eco Green near the MRT track. Someone had spotted it and had reported to The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).

On Wednesday, SPCA executive director Aarthi Sankar said the animal welfare group responded immediately and the rabbit is now safe.

SPCA said rabbits are domesticated pets and do not belong in the wild.

"As such, if you see a rabbit outside, it is highly likely that he or she has been abandoned or lost. Rabbits can get highly stressed in such situations and may not survive being out in the open for extended periods of time," it said.

Over the years, SPCA has seen an increase in abandonment cases, especially with small mammals like rabbits and hamsters. It added that many of the animals are not microchipped, making it difficult to determine if they have been lost or abandoned.

"We noticed seasonal patterns, with an estimated 20 per cent increase in surrenders or abandonments during the festive seasons," the association said.

Those found guilty of failure in duty of care to their pets (including pet abandonment) or committing acts of animal cruelty can be charged under the Animals and Birds Act.

A first-time offender who fails in their duty of care to their pet can be fined up to $10,000 and/or a jail term of up to 12 months.

Among the rabbits in need of a home is Miffy, a rabbit whose owner surrendered it to the SPCA.
Among the rabbits in need of a home is Miffy, a rabbit whose owner surrendered it to the SPCA. (PHOTO: SPCASingapore/Facebook) (SPCA)

Bunnies a popular pet choice for impulse purchases and adoptions

With the Year of the Rabbit ear around the corner, SPCA has expressed concern that impulse purchases and adoptions of rabbits may increase without serious consideration of whether one can maintain them.

"This inadvertently leads to them being surrendered or abandoned when care becomes too challenging," it said.

There is a misconception that rabbits make good starter pets for children due to their small size, according to the House Rabbit Society Singapore.

"What people (the parents) need to understand is that they require at least 10 years of commitment and taking care of them would be costly," it added.

For instance, adoption fees could cost up to $100, while other medical expenses and supplies could amount to a few hundred dollars.

Ms Zheng recalled a case in which a rabbit's owner mentioned it had been diagnosed with a condition, and the owner did not have the means to pay for the treatment. Therefore, they wanted the welfare group to take care of it instead.

Bunny Wonderland, another animal welfare organisation, noted that parents sometimes impulsively adopt rabbits for their young children.

"They probably had that idea from their children who enjoy being with the rabbit, but they may not have thought carefully. Having the space, the money and the time to do this is at the parents' expense, not their children," said Lynne Tan, co-founder of Bunny Wonderland.

Careful selection process

Rabbit welfare groups said they would continue to be careful when selecting potential owners for adoptions, especially during the holiday season.

The House Rabbit Society Singapore said a potential owner will be asked thorough questions on their applications during the two-week adoption process.

"It is basically to learn more about their background, to understand the motivation behind wanting to adopt," Ms Zheng said "We want to ensure they are fully aware of what is involved in caring for rabbits, such as (having) an appropriate space at home for them.

"The red flag is usually a reply such as 'my daughter wants a rabbit' or 'my kids have been begging me for a year'."

Bunny Wonderland said they would also make regular telephone calls to the potential owners as part of their efforts to determine their intentions.

"It will depend on the sincerity of the potential adopters. If they lack some preparation, we help educate them," said Ms Tan.

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